Here’s a great Irish Tune, “The Red Haired Boy.” It is one of the first Irish tunes which I learned to play on the mountain dulcimer. I “rediscovered” Paul Andry’s tab while looking through books of tablature for something else. The tune is played in DAD tuning (Key of D) in the Mixolydian mode with a “C natural” note rather than a “C sharp” note (or a “6” fret rather than a “6-1/2” fret). This gives the tune a haunting melody, methodical rhythm and feel. Jerry Rockwell also has a version entitled, “The Little Beggarman.” The two tunes are very similar; one has lyrics while the second is an instrumental song. The tablature arrangements of these two dulcimer players were written before the 1-1/2 fret was commonplace on mountain dulcimers. So, I made my own arrangement using this extra fret. Plus, I also simplified the tune a bit so that I could more easily play it. (Hey, nothing wrong with that.) And, I added suggestions for hammer-on’s, pull-off’s and slides. These ornamentations help smooth out the “feel” of the arrangement.
Simplifying a tune
Traditional Irish tunes are rewarding to play on the mountain dulcimer, but technically some of them can be quite challenging. I based my arrangement on several ones intended for fiddlers which are posted on the website, “The Sessions.” These arrangements are full of melodic runs and passing notes. So, I simplified this tune by omitting some of these notes. You don’t miss them; the basic melody is still there and these modifications make the tune much easier to play.
“The Red Haired Boy” doesn’t have alot of chords or harmony notes, which helps make this tune easier to play. Therefore, I left out most harmony notes and strums. Play this tune on the melody string only, except where strums are shown. This style of playing (omitting chords across the strings) also makes it much easier to play ornaments.
Dulcimer Ornaments: Hammer-on’s, Pull-off’s and Slides
The beauty of this tune is the smoothness of playing the runs of notes and “phrases” making this tune is a great one to incorporate hammer-on’s, pull-off’s and slides. Rather than picking every note, these ornaments help make the playing much smoother as you pick or strum only every other note. There are lots of places in the tune where the consecutive notes made this possible — I have given several examples in the tablature. I also intend for the player to “fill in the gaps.”
For hammer-on’s — pick the string then hammer your index finger as hard as you can on the fret above it and hold it down. Two notes for one pick. For pull-off’s, pick the string and then strongly pull off with your index finger, holding the lower fret down with another finger. For a slide, just slide your thumb up or down to the next fret. Or slide down or up with your ring or index finger. For all three of these ornaments, you get two notes for one pick of the string. The key to all of these techniques is to use alot of force with your finger — it is highly unlikely that you will break a string.
Mountain “minor,” Mixolydian mode
This tune is played in the Mixolydian mode in a DAD tuning. It uses the “C” natural note (“1-1/2” fret on the middle string and “6” fret on the melody string) which gives this Irish tune a haunting, “minor” sound. Although you can play this “C” natural note on the “6” fret on the bass string, playing this “C” note on the middle string and “1-1/2” fret makes for much easier reaches with the left hand.
In addition to playing these ornaments for smoothness (hammer-on’s, pull-off’s and slides), my arrangement is basically written phases which last one or two measures. Play the quarter notes with loudness and emphasis, then softer fingerpicking the eighth notes. The contrast is just enough to catch your attention and make an effective arrangement.
Fingerpick or Flatpick
I like to fingerpick this type of arrangement. I find that using my right hand fingers rather than a pick makes it much easier to playing the dulcimer. However, if you like picks, then flatpick the tune. Your choice.
I can thank both Paul Andry and Jerry Rockwell for many wonderful arrangements of tunes over the years. I learned much of my dulcimer repertoire from the books and tablature of these dulcimer players and others plus listening to them play. I tend to hold onto dulcimer books and tablature copies. From time to time, I’ll look through my collections for song and find a treasure chest of music which I used to play.
I love Irish music played on the mountain dulcimer. Here a great Irish tune from my past with a new, updated arrangement. Enjoy!
Here is the Jpeg image of the song. A PDF file to download follows.
Jerry Rockwell, The Blackbird and the Beggarman — Mountain Dulcimer Solos on Celtic Melodies, Mel Bay Publications, Copyright,1998.