Mountain Dulcimer: “Aura Lee” an Easy Jamming Tune!
Mountain dulcimer players love to play together and with other instruments in “jam sessions.” This takes some individual practice at home before you join in the jamming. It’s always easier to learn a piece of music if you have heard it before. Here’s an easy tune that might sound familiar to your ears if you remember Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” That hit song was written to the traditional melody of this old Civil War tune, “Aura Lee,” presented below. People usually play it in the key of G major. To get to that key you use the “DGD” tuning:
- The dulcimer’s bass string is tuned to D below middle c.
- The middle string is tuned to the note G that is 4 notes higher than the D on the bass string.
- You may have 1 or 2 “melody” strings closest to you, tuned to D an octave above the D on your bass string. The tuning is called “DGD.”
DGD tuning is close to the currently-popular DAD tuning. (The middle string is just tuned one note lower.) In DGD tuning your G major scale starts on the melody string (sometimes 2 strings close together and tuned alike to D) at the 3rd fret. Then you play up to the 10th fret, omitting the 6-1/2 fret note.
Listen to the simple melody of “Aura Lee.” It has the simple melody picked on the dulcimer’s melody string(s), along with some guitar accompaniment:
Here is the tablature for “Aura Lee” in DGD tuning. You can either pick the notes on the melody string(s), as in the recording, or strum across all strings. After you feel comfortable playing it, try playing along with the above sound file.
After you have played along with the above sound file, it’s your turn to play melody (‘lead’) with your dulcimer while the guitar plays chords behind you! Try this with the following sound file. Practice and enjoy!
Here is the first verse of this traditional song for additional help learning the melody. More verses can be found on the internet.
As the blackbird in the spring, ‘neath the willow tree,
Sat and piped, I heard him sing; sing of Aura Lee.
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, maid of golden hair.
Sunshine came along with thee, and swallows in the air.
The FIRST JAM series of Mel Bay books was created to give beginners of all ages a book of simple, common tunes to learn. Many are standard “Jam” tunes in the Bluegrass/Old Time music styles. All the books in this series are written in the same keys; they can all be played together without any problems. So get your friends or family who play guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, mountain dulcimer or Dobro together, grab these books and start jamming!
About the Author
Lee “Drew” Andrews began playing guitar at age 14. His first years of college were spent studying Physics. When he found himself skipping many of his core classes in order to spend more time playing guitar, he decided it may be better to change majors.
Drew then studied Guitar Performance at Utah State University, where he also minored in Technical and Professional Writing. In 2002 he took a position with Mel Bay Publications as a guitar editor and since has authored several best selling publications.
Photo Credit: Gary W. Davis