Creat Dulcimer Tabs with Lilypond

August 22, 2014

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.

Dance Recital Location

June 16, 2014

Dance Recital Location

The girls had the final dance recital for the year at the Brunswick Community College campus.

Virgina Sunset

November 8, 2013

Virgina Sunset

Evening in Williamsburg.

School Outside

September 19, 2013

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

April 17, 2013

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

Sunday in Philly

April 8, 2013

This morning I went to Tenth Presbyterian church for the 9:00 worship service. I enjoyed it a lot, though singing every song to the accompaniment of an organ would take some getting used to.


On the way back I walked through Philadelphia City Hall. It’s unlike any city hall I’ve seen before. Not only is it a historic building, it’s really neat to walk though. The central courtyard gathers a lot of interest when it’s open, I can understand why.


The rest of the morning was taken up with sessions at the Ellucian conference. The co-owner of Life is Good t-shirt company was the motivational speaker this time. I didn’t know what to expect, but he did a good job. I like his point about having a “get to” attitude rather than “have to” when thinking about the demands of every day life. Some people don’t “get to” walk, for example.

This afternoon I took a walk down to 20th street to take some pictures of the SEPTA metro line coming into the city center. On the way I stopped to take a picture of a Jewish memorial.


The railroad was busy. Three or four trains passed by as I walked down the sidewalk. This one was coming out from underground.


As it went over the river bridge, another one, going faster, overtook it and they headed together to the next station.


From my spot on the bridge I had a good view back into downtown. I don’t know what all the buildings are, but some have a unique look.


When I reached the river, another train passed by, heading to the tunnel. After taking this shot I realized it was time to turn back if I was going to make my Skype date tonight.


You can see more photos on flickr.

Walking in Philadelphia

April 6, 2013

Once I got settled in the hotel, I went back out to walk around and see what was near me. I’m in the middle of city, so that means a lot of tall buildings around.


A lot of people were walking about. One street was especially busy. I guess the clubs and restaurants where starting to open. I wondered what the rainbow on the street sign meant.


My conference sessions will be in the Pennsylvania Convention Center a couple of blocks away from my hotel. The center covers at least three city blocks and was built over the existing streets.


Chinatown is nearby, so I walked down a few more blocks until I found it. You can definately tell when you’ve arrived.


In Chinatown, some parts of the street smell fishy (literally🙂. It just as busy as some of uptown where I had walked earlier. On one street I found an outdoor market. I stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures.


On the way back I wanted to get a picture of my hotel… wait that’s not my hotel. There are a bunch around the convention center, I better make sure I go in the right one.


Ah, I found it finally! I’m on the second floor, so I don’t have much of a view. But at least it will be convenient to get out in the morning.