Strumstick Chords & TABs

No matter how long you've had your Strumstick it's always good to learn a little more! Whether you're playing with the 1-Finger method or looking for more complexity in your chords, searching for more picking techniques or strumming rhythms to try, it's good to expand your horizons.

Even if you know quite a few chords already, it's super helpful (and fun) to add more versions of chords to your repertoire. Having options means you can choose a particular version of one chord - let's say A - that best fits the need of the song you're playing. It's just a fact that sometimes the A you've been playing on every song you've learned will sound just a little off in the next song you learn. So, having options means you can swap out one for another and see if it helps.

The Key of D

By the way, we'll be referring to the notes and chords for Strumstick from the perspective of a D-tuned instrument (DAD), since that's where a majority of Strumsticks, pickin' sticks, dulcimer guitars, river dulcimers, and Seagull Merlins are tuned. (It has to do with the grandmother instrument being a mountain dulcimer (or lap dulcimer), which is also tuned to DAD). If you have a G-tuned instrument (or something else entirely!), feel free to shoot over questions, or download the FREE Dulcimer Key Change Guide, which is intended to help you translate G to D (and back), as well as other keys.

First off, what we need to establish are the chords of the key of D, which are:

D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, and C#º (then back to D again, as the scale starts over)

These are all of the naturally occurring chords, the ones that are built using only the notes in the D major scale (D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D). All other chords are either "flavors" of these seven chords, or ones that are "borrowed" from other keys. We'll look at a few examples of those below, most notably the C chord.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out our Strumstick (Dulcimer) Chords Guide. It has plenty of chord symbols (like these!), technique explanations, and extra goodies to further your musical experience!

How to Read Strumstick Chords

First, a quick orientation to the notation - the chord symbols - of your Strumstick.

strumstick chords diagram - open D symbol

At the top of this diagram is the "0 fret" (aka "nut"), which is where the strings first cross over from the area with the tuning keys ("headstock" or "peghead") to the neck. Open circles indicate that a string is played open (unfretted). Dark circles show where a string should be fretted, with a number representing your left-hand fingers. You'll notice at the bottom of the diagram we've included the names of the musical notes you will be playing.

Keep in mind that these chord symbols are the best starting points, but you may want to change up something about them to fit your needs. For example, if one of the suggested fingerings just feels funky (or hard), then mess around with it, try different fingers, and if you find something better then go with that!  This is also a great reason to look at the various versions of a given chord, so you have options in that way. 

Consider these two G chords. The simplest takeaway here is that you have two versions of the same chord you can choose from.  The one on the left, a barre chord of G at the 3rd fret, should be easier to hold as it is, but it might also be more uncomfortable at first.  (That said, I strongly encourage you to pursue being able to play barre chords!)  In the event that it's difficult, you could play it with two or three fingers all bunched up together. Or you could switch to the version of G on the right. That one might be easier for you, or it might sound better in a given song. Some people also find this chord easier to play with their pinky on the third fret, instead of the ring finger.

2 different G strumstick chords

  **NOTE: The above pictures are of a Seagull Merlin G model simply because there are fret numbers on the fingerboard, so it's easier to see.

Practicing New Chord Shapes

The temptation for a beginner players (and well studied ones, too) is to learn a particular new chord or chord shape and then immediately try to play it in a song or play it fast. Sometimes that's not too big of a problem, but I might encourage you to slow it down a bit to start. If your hand isn't used to the shape of a new chord it'll need some time to get used to the muscles being in that position. Muscle memory is a real thing. One method I've always found helpful to practice new chords is something like the following:

  1. Grab the new chord and strum to make sure all the notes ring through
  2. Pick any other chord to switch to. Any one.
  3. Let's say you're learning the G on the right above, "G2," and you decide to switch back and forth with D
  4. Play that chord slow enough to make sure all the strings ring through
  5. Now switch back to the first one, in this case G2
  6. And back to D
  7. Each time make sure the strings all ring through
  8. You're not aiming for speed or rhythm yet, just a clear ringing chord!
  9. NOW... put some slow rhythm to it by playing each chord 4 times at a slow tempo (1, 2, 3, 4 [switch], 1, 2, 3, 4)
  10. Just keep doing that back and forth with the two chords till you're more comfortable.
  11. Speed it up a bit.  And then stop and pick another chord to use to swap out with the G2.  Anything.  And repeat the whole exercise. 

What you're doing now is teaching your hand how to find the new chord from different starting points. Repeat all of this until you're more and more comfortable grabbing the new chord shape from anywhere on the neck. You're improving!

The 6.5 Fret: Extra Strumstick Chords!

There's plenty more thoughts and chord shapes to consider in the Dulcimer Chord Guide, so check that out. We'll move ahead now.

You may have noticed your Strumstick has an "extra" fret on it, at least when you look at other dulcimer guitars, like the Seagull Merlin, it appears that way. What do you do with that 6.5 fret, anyway? There's no shortage of things you can play with just the one added note, C. But the biggest win, in terms of Strumstick chords, is the C major chord. In the key of D, a C chord, whose notes are CEG, is the flat-7 (bVII) of the scale, so it's not natural to the key at all.

That might all sound like mumbo jumbo, and don't worry if it does, the key takeaway is: without the six-and-a-half fret you simply can't play a C chord!

What difference does that make? Well, there are a multitude of songs that rely on the flat 7 chord. One of the top-of-mind ones is "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns n' Roses. (Still need to make a lesson for that one. Turns out you CAN play the iconic riff on a Strumstick!)

Check out our ever-growing set of dulcimer Song Guides. All the Strumstick chords you need on one song sheet!

Practical Application: Let's Put Some New Strumstick Chords in Action

It's time to use some of these chords in a song.  Think you're ready to learn the chords for "Brown-Eyed Girl?" Here's a lovely lesson, but we made sure to include the little riff. I mean, it's as integral to the song as the "sha la la la."

For those with a more modern rock interest, here's a run down of the opening riff, and how to play the Strumstick chords for "The Gold," by Manchester Orchestra. This song is recorded in the key of D, so you can play along with the band. I'd encourage everyone to learn it and give it a try simply because it's a pretty easy one to play (even with just 1-Finger), and playing along with a recording is pretty cool. (Read more on Strumstick rock songs)

While this next one was video'd on a Seagull Merlin the chords and melody lines apply the same way. And they're a lot of 1-Finger chords, so you can play along very easily. You can also download the Strumstick chord sheet for "Don't Stop Believin'" on the site!

Our friend Sean Knisely shot this version of "1979" on a Grand McNally Strumstick. No TABs for this one, but it's a great approach to using more than just straight chords.

Help Us Help You!

What in this shorter-than-it-could-be article needs further explanation? Are there Strumstick chords we should cover in more depth? What will help you learn more and enjoy your musical journey more? Don't forget to check the dulcimer videos library here as well, there might be some ideas and answers there.

Happy playing!