Creat Dulcimer Tabs with Lilypond

Last month my daughter was inspired to learn the Mountain Dulcimer. We started looking for tablature on the Internet to help us get started (one great resource is the web site Everything Dulcimer). But I also wanted to be able to create simple tabs on my own.

I had used Lilypond in the past to create sheet music for my drum students. I figured it should be simple enough to use it again for the dulcimer. Unfortunately there are a few quirks to learn before you can create exactly what you want.

First the dulcimer has an unusual fret and tuning arrangement that does not match any of the tunings present in Lilypond by default. So the first step in the process is to create a custom string tuning. I found one on the lilypond-user listserv that I tweaked to get this:

\with {
stringTunings = #`(
,(ly:make-pitch 0 1 0)
,(ly:make-pitch -1 5 0)
,(ly:make-pitch -1 1 0)
fretLabels = #'(
"0" "0+" "1" "1+" "2" "3" "3+" "4" "4+" "5" "6" "6+"
"7" "7+" "8" "8+" "9" "10" "10+" "11" "11+" "12" "13" "13+"
"14" "14+" "15" "15+" "16" "17" "17+" "18" "18+" "19" "20" "20+"
tablatureFormat = #fret-letter-tablature-format
fontSize = #2

This whole section will go in the TabStaff section. The key difference is the string pitches are upside down to match the arrangement of the dulcimer strings.

The second quirk is that if you tweak the notes to match the standard staff you may discover the tablature has gone awry. I ended up using a copy of the music for the tab so I could shift the octave up to fit within the dulcimer’s range as specified by the string tunings. For example this is Twinkle, Twinkle in G major:

melodyOne = {
g4 g d' d | e e d2 | c4 c b b | a a g2 | \break
d'4 d c c | b b a2 | d4 d c c | b b a2 | \break
g4 g d' d | e e d2 | c4 c b b | a a g2 |


It produces a descent looking staff, but when used as a tab it comes out quite awkward.

There are a number of things that need to be tweaked to get it to look right for a dulcimer. First, if you have tuned to D-A-D, you’ll need to transpose from G to D. Then lilypond is going to want to put some of the notes in the wrong octave, this is easy to fix with an apostrophe to bring it back up. The other nice thing is you can specify which string to use when it’s in tablature mode. For example this melody should only be played on the bottom “dd” strings, so I used \3 to force Lilypond to keep the note on that string.

melodyTab = {
\transpose g d {
g4 g d'\3 d'\3 | e'\3 e'\3 d'2\3 | c'4 c' b b | a a g2 |
d'4\3 d'\3 c'\3 c'\3 | b b a2 | d'4\3 d'\3 c' c' | b b a2 |
g4 g d'\3 d'\3 | e'\3 e'\3 d'2\3 | c'4\3 c'\3 b b | a a g2 |


Once I had those pieces in place, the tab looked the way I wanted it to.

While you could probably move the string tuning to a separate file, in this example, it is part of the tabStaff. I also included lyrics as an extra touch. Note that the key of the tablature does not match the musical notation (D vs. G).


You can download the full file here.

School Outside

The weather was just perfect for doing science out side. Everything was done under the watchful eye of the substitute teacher. She kept everything under control with a twitch of her tail!


The Cat is Watching

Historic Philadelphia

Tuesday was my last day to sight-see around Philly. I hadn’t been down to the old city district yet. I especially wanted to take a look at the Liberty bell. Unfortunately mid-afternoon was a busy time, so I ended up going past the bell and headed down toward the riverfront.

On my way back I stopped by the hall where the first continental congress met.


First Continental Congress, 1774

Spring was starting to make an appearance. One of the trees on the edge of the yard was in full bloom.


Flowering Tree

As I headed back to the visitor center I passed (and was passed by) the horse-drawn carriages. It reminded me a lot of the one or two in Wilmington, NC, but Philly has many more than just two. They were lined up waiting for passengers outside the Liberty Bell center.


Horse Carriages Waiting

Wild Grapes

We have wild grapes growing in the woods beside our house. The other day MD asked if we could make juice out of them. Since I had the day off, we tried it this morning.


Muscadine Grapes

We each tried mashing the grapes, and discovered that they were harder to squish than they looked.


Squashing the Grapes

Everyone had a taste. CDF said the juice reminded her of Aunt Sena who used to grow grapes.


Grape Juice

What if He’s Fired

Yesterday, out of the blue, MD asked, “what if Daddy were fired?” Then she went on to wonder what would happen if both my brother and I were fired. “I hope they don’t get fired.”

Not to worry, CE had the solution, “If Daddy gets fired, a fire truck will come, and he’ll be saved.”

Christmas Cat

Soon after our cat adopted us we decided she was going to be an outside pet. We’ve managed to keep her out there, and she has a nice warm and cozy bed in the shed (when she’s not sleeping in the childs seat on the back of the bicycle). She does manage to sneak in at times, usually when we’re trying to come inside.


Christmas Cat

She got a new colar this Christmas, but promptly licked it and caused the top to fray some. But even if it’s not as pretty as when we first put it on, the little bell still helps us find her now.

An Old Bridge

Over the Christmas holiday, MD and I were exploring the wood behind our house and clean out some of the brush to make paths. We worked our way all the way back to the ditch on the other side of the wood from our yard (not quite sure if our property extends to the ditch or not) where we made a discovery. I was going along the ditch, which is deeper than the one that runs along the side of our property, and noticed an old, leaf-covered bridge going across the ditch to someone else’s yard. In addition to leaves, some old vines had grown across it (probably honeysuckle or wisteria) and it looked like it hadn’t been used in a number of years.

I started cutting back some of the vines so we could get to the bridge. It was still in good condition, no signs of rotten wood. So we walked across and found it connected us to a house on Walker Street.


Bridge in the Woods

MD and I cleaned off most of the leaves and cut back more of the vines that covered it. While we did that, the cat crossed over and poked around in the neighbors yard to see what she could find.


MD Exploring the Bridge

More recently we were in the woods again and saw a couple of boys who live in the house directly behind ours on the next street. They came and crossed the bridge to join us in our exploration, but they didn’t know anything about the bridge either. So for now it’s builder and purpose remain an mystery.

Christmas Pictures

On Christmas Eve the family got together for a group picture. We ended up taking two different pictures as people arrived at different times. I was so busy checking for a sufficient amount of light, and making sure that nobody was cut off at the edges, that I forgot to check to see if anyone’s face was obscured. Something to remember for next year.


Second family picture

Sam’s family wasn’t supposed to arrive until later, but they got there before the camera was put away, so we were able to include them in a second picture.


First family picture