redoing a 15 bar chord set for playing with dulcimers

Chord buttons don't need to stay where they are. Check out some other ideas. What notes are in a chord. Nonstandard chords.

redoing a 15 bar chord set for playing with dulcimers

Postby Bob Lewis » Fri Mar 07, 2008 8:29 am

Sent: Monday, March 03, 2008 12:12 AM

Hi Bob Lewis,

I am a brand new autoharp player and got introduced to the instrument and wonderful people and players on the autoharp cruise last month. I have a 15 chord chromatic autoharp. The musicians on the cruise and I agree that my harp is not set up for what they play. I got a set up that would allow me to play in D, G, C ,F ,E and A on line. However it has few minors and no key has all 6 needed chords. Since I will probably be playing mostly with dulcimer folks, I really feel that I need bm, fsharp minor and e minor to go with the key of D. I would love all the chords for G and if possible C. I talked to Neal Walters and he said I should contact you. He said you are the expert on chord layouts depending on what one wants. He also said that I should send my autoharp to you and you would do it.

Another possibility, I guess, would be to go to a 21 chord layout. I have no idea how much that would cost or whether it would be a good idea for a beginner.

I’d appreciate any feedback and ideas.


Rearranging the layout on a two button row system like the 12 or 15 bar is often discussed but it costs significant money to refelt bars on which the buttons are both labeled and fixed. Since the ultimate answer for chord layout logic is three rows of buttons, using that money toward a 21 bar conversion is the real answer. There are three types of chords; majors, minors, and 7ths; and the 21 bar set has three rows of buttons. There may be more chord bars than actually needed, but that is not really a deal breaker.

The 21 chord conversion costs $128 and that price would include up to 4 nonstandard chords. The price assumes the strings are tuned in the standard chromatic manner, allowing use of the kit's existing felting on all but 4 bars. Nonstandard chords would include a button on which the label font was different than used to imprint the other buttons.

Refelting bars on the existing chord set would cost $5 per bar. The problem is that three types of chords on two rows of buttons is never entirely logical.

The existing two row arrangement favors the keys of C and F. It works pretty well, although the key of G is actually positioned to play with the instrument lying in front of you (lap style). :



Improvements for G and D and for playing the instrument held upright would look like the following:

Recommended modification:


B7 and A are new. The Eb and F7 are sacrificed. The G and D7 are recreated in the opposite row. All others are simply put in a different order. That would be 4 bars refelted and 4 buttons relabeled.

Transposing that same FCG improved layout to GDA would look like the following, involving more refelting:


A CGD version, as you requested, would look like the following:


If concerned most about playing with dulcimers in D, you should forgo C and go with the GDA setup. Watch out though, because you might actually prefer to play your dulcimer. Be clear on what it is the autoharp is supposed to do for you. Personally, I would forget those D tunes, opting for your dulcimer, and focus on what your best vocal key might be with the autoharp. IMO the autoharp is better for vocal accompaniment than a dulcimer. It is then a question of what role the instrument plays. The autoharp is more than something to pick up when one sings a Carter song.

If concerned about not knowing any music except that for the dulcimer, just expect that the autoharp will bring with it learning some new music. Autoharps don't play dulcimer music. They play autoharp music, only overlapping some of the time. Each instrument finds tunes that play to its strengths or avoid its limitations, "well suited to the instrument". Whether one plays well is another matter. Sometimes the dulcimers need to play along with the autoharps, following rather than leading. You can have the advantage of picking the better instrument for a particular tune or key.

Bob Lewis
Bob Lewis
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