Can a existing traditional hammered dulcimer be turned into a Linear Chromatic?
Most likely not. The physics of strings means that most existing hammered dulcimers would gain too much tension with the resulting structural failures. The instrument probably would not have sufficient range as well. I don't recommend trying it.
Can I play both a LC and a traditional hammered dulcimer?
It is possible but certainly more challenging. If you are considering moving back and forth between the two, it is suggested that you use the Standard/Diatonic Marking system for the LC.
When learning the LC, is it only more confusing to switch over and play on a diatonic layout? Is it better to stay with the LC until I'm more familiar?
The diatonic and LC layout are similar enough that moving from either one to another should be straightforward. However, a musician with a good theory, classical, jazz background or a good trained ear would find learning on the LC to be easier than the diatonic. For someone new to music, learning on the diatonic first might be the better choice. Certainly, learning on the LC first should make learning the diatonic a snap for most music, with some significant adjustment for highly chromatic stretches. Moving between the two again is facilitated by an LC with the Standard Marking System rather than the Piano Marking System.
The LC requires more accuracy for hammering the correct notes, because accidentally hitting a wrong note that is a chromatic can sound quite discordant - maybe this is why they call the additional chromatic notes in any scale the "accidental" notes! With a diatonic, wrong notes are often in the scale and can be more easily passed off as passing or grace notes. The LC develops hammering accuracy that makes diatonic play easier to transition to than the other way around.
How is the traditional diatonic hammered dulcimer marked in comparison to the LC? ( with "extended diatonic" or Standard/Diatonic marking)
The diatonic dulcimer is laid out according to the "circle of fifths" represented by the white notes up and down the side of a bridge. The black notes are the notes that fall between the white notes. Some builders only mark the white notes, and may use a color or marking other than white to mark these notes. Black and white are the most common ways to mark these notes, you could make them any color or marking like red and green (good for Christmas dulcimer music!).
On the Standard marking system for the LC, bronze is the color for the additional "in-between" chromatic notes while the black and white remain the same as the traditional diatonic markings. As a result hammer patterns are transferable between the diatonic and LC if you stick to playing the black and white notes exclusively. Where the LC shines is with those bronze notes. Patterns with chromatic notes are logical and easy to find and play with the LC and often difficult or highly impractical on the diatonic or chromatic diatonic. That is why classical, jazz or other highly complex music is usually compromised and simplified to make it playable on the diatonic and is why the hammered dulcimer is not taken seriously outside of folk and traditional music. The LC, however, is a truly universal instrument and is naturally suited to play all styles and complexity of music in logically and intuitively - in any key!
The Standard Marking system makes sense to those players already used to traditional diatonic marking. If you've played hammered dulcimer for years than this "extended diatonic" Standard marking will make the most sense and make the transition to the LC easier. Note: Dan Landrum has some additional color coded marks that help him navigate the Standard Marking system, the marking system he is using.
Are their alternative ways to mark the instrument? (Piano Marking)
Steve Schneider and a student of Steve's Daniel Hirsh have come up with another way to mark the instrument which more closely resembles the piano. It must be emphasized that this is just the marking. The instrument is still tuned exactly the same and can be re-marked at any point. For those individuals who have had piano background this piano marking scheme makes more sense. White keys/notes are marked with white, black notes/keys are marked with black. If the wood of the bridge is dark, it will be left natural and become the representation of black notes. If the bridges are blonde maple, the black is painted on leaving the blonde to represent the white notes. Where you have fifth interval bridges the saddle is white on one side and black on the other (a split saddle). There are no grey markers. A continuous black saddle runs down the center of the marked bridge.
The piano markings take the instrument out of the realm of traditional dulcimer instructional materials (at least those materials that rely on tablature). If you are used to learning music through standard notation than much of the tradtional dulcimer material is usually offered in standard notation as well as tablature making it accessible to those who can read music. The existence of tablature should not be a reason to dismiss the piano marking system. I have a tuning chart available which better illustrates the piano style of marking. Traditional hammered dulcimer players would feel more comfortable with the Original or Standard/Diatonic marking system described in the previous question. There are two versons of Steve Shmania's book; one using the Standard/Diatonic marking and the other using the Piano marking system. Neil Simmons has shared his experience with both marking systems on this page.
Do I have to be a skilled musician to tackle the LC?
Skill is a relative thing. A master musician and hammered dulcimer player such as Dan Landrum can more easily take advantage of the extreme versatility of the LC for playing patterns, keys, chromatic possibilities and music ranging from traditional to complex classical pieces written in odd keys and lots of accidentals. On the other hand, a beginner can learn and master play in all the scales and simple to complex chords more easily on the LC, that take greater skill to play - if practical at all - on the diatonic dulcimer. Being a beginner you will not be encumbered by previous learning. Having some musical background will make things easier as will a serious committment to learn.
How difficult is it to tune?
The 10/19/18/8 LC has a total of 110 strings. This instrument is not meant for someone who struggles with tuning. It takes an effort to keep everything in tune and the relationships working. Since the instrument is fully chromatic, tuning is even more important. It is not like sitting down at the piano (which stays in tune for much longer periods of time). Obviously if you are committed to learning the instrument and playing it on a regular basis tuning becomes less of hassle as you'll stay on top of it. If you only play once a week than tuning becomes much more of a chore.
Does each builder have his own "version" of chromatic layouts? Is there no standard?
The fact is that most diatonic layouts are somewhat chromatic over most of their range, and the diatonic layout is reasonably standard up to a 16/15. Additional chromatic notes are added by each builder with not much attention to any standard making larger more chromatic diatonic layouts somewhat illogical. Learning to play those instruments often is instrument specific. There are other versions of completely chromatic hammmered dulcimers out there such as Sam Rizzeta's Piano Dulcimer, Tsimbls, Cymbalom's and Yang Chins each of which have a different take on how chromaticism is accomplished.
Why doesn't the LC have a soundhole?
Given the placement of bridges, there wasn't a good place to put a soundhole. Having a soundhole lower on the instrument seems to throw off the visual balance. We have discovered that the sound quality of the instrument has not suffered in the least. There are sound "slots" on the front and back rail as well as a hand hole in the back which together become the soundhole.Other added benefits are there is no additional visual distraction under the strings, and the structural integrity of the board has not been compromised. What is lost, though, is my and my customer's characteristic personalization of their instrument through some type of unique soundhole design. I am open to suggestions as to ways we might add personalizing elements to the instrument.
Am I going to have a tough time finding teachers and instructional materials?
By purchasing this instrument you will be somewhat of a revolutionary. As of this writing there are only a handful of these instruments being played. This is a groundbreaking instrument . Right now the only dedicated book is Steve Shmania's book and there are few players and almost no teachers who have had any experience with the instrument. All of the other dulcimer books, material, and methods are geared towards the traditional diatonic/chromatic dulcimer. You and your teacher can certainly continue to use that kind of material, but what the LC facilitates is all those other pieces that previously would have been difficult to play on a traditional hammered dulcimer. Most of this material is going to be in standard notation and may need to be arranged for the hammered dulcimer but now the whole world of music will be available.
Traditional teachers are initially going to be taken aback by the extra chromatics and reluctant to help you make the leap. Once they understand the relationship of the LC to the traditional dulcimer though they will be able to help you take those first steps by locating traditional dulcimer tunes on the the LC and helping you work on hammering technique.
This from Pam Ramsden in Great Britain
In terms of reading music at first I was trying to play piano music and then realized that music written for classical guitar was better suited - although there is chording in guitar music its not as complicated as the chording in piano music and its easier to drop off notes and still play the major chord- if that makes sense. Also guitar music is written specifically to be plucked - so it matches incredibly well with the dulcimer. The way you have placed the scales - you don't have to stretch to get the correct notes in the song as this is taken into consideration for the guitar - which is what I was doing with the piano music - it seems that nearly every piece of music has already been transposed to guitar - so it makes it so much easier. Its just a discovery - so if anyone else is interested in playing classical music - you can tell them that pieces written for guitar are so much easier to play. There is no base cleft which needs to be transposed - so its tons easier. Even popular tunes are already transposed for guitar and generally guitar music is fairly inexpensive. Often you can get stuff for free off the internet.