East Tennessee Psaltery Gathering Follow Up - Los Bilbilicos


I had a great time at the East Tennessee Psaltery Gathering.  According to the pictures that have been posted it looks like everyone else was having a good time too.  There were lots of opportunities to learn new music and psaltery/music techniques.  There were workshops, constant opportunities for jamming, concerts and open stages, and great opportunities for visiting with friends and making new friends.  I'm looking forward to next year.


In a discussion about modes I shared a Phrygian version (or my version) of Los Bilbilicos.  When asked if I had chords for the music I agreed to provide them.  So, attached is a pdf file with the music and chords for Los Bilbilicos.  Also attached are mp3 files of the song (one with and one without chords).  I recorded the psaltery track first, then the guitar track.


I have found that some modal songs seem to need a chord for almost every note.  In the pdf file the first page includes the chords I used with a guitar finger picking pattern.  The second page includes suggested chords for every note (stay on a chord until the next chord appears).  It might be possible to find a nice sound if the song was played slower and a chord instrument was available that could make smooth transitions between the chords.  The chords might also be useful in finding the harmony notes.


I purposely left a time signature off of the music.  The melody is probably older than modern music key and time signatures and with this version I didn't want to be bound by time.  Leaving the time signature off also allowed me to arrange each line as a phrase which I hope will help with learning the song.





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Los Bilbilicos was one of the pieces I learned at bowed psaltery music lessons early on. I'll have to find it and see how it was arranged!

The class was great Dave, and you were very brave to take on such a challenge   Modes hurt my brain, but I am determined to get a better understanding of them. My music teacher, Dona Benkert, has taken me part of the way, you took me a little further ...buuuuutttttt, I'm not quite there yet 

We had some great discussion and I really enjoyed the workshop!


Thanks Donna

The session we had was a good time.  I still am in awe at how fast everyone learned the tunes.  Maybe next year we can add some harmony notes (or sooner?).




Thank you very much for letting us know how East Tennessee Psaltery Gathering was.  I really wish I could join you some day, though it seems rather difficult because we have two big concerts in November every year. 


Los Bilbilicos is a haunting song, isn’t it?  And I do agree with your intention to upload the sheet music without the bar-lines. 


I would like to ask you a question about the mode scale.  Am I correct to say that songs like Old Joe Clark and June Apple are played in Mixolydian scale, while songs like Scarborough Fair and Arran Boat Song, Lydian? 


Thank you.  



Thank You Nozomi-san

So many times I'll see on TV or the internet where an "expert" provides an opinion on a topic or issue and then other "experts" expound on the opinion or disagree with it until the public is divided or confused.  My activity in modes has been much the same in that someone will say something and then another will say the same thing with different words or disagree with it entirely.  Reading further on modes I found where the original modes were different from the "modern modes".  There were also other classifications attached to modes such as hypo- and hyper- if most of the notes in a song were above or below the tonic note of the mode.  If you perform an internet search on hypophrygian you'll get an idea of the level of complexity that is available for modal discussion.


I think all of the modal complexity is great for people who want to prove who knows the most about a mode, but I prefer to experience the application of a mode in simple form (to play something modal).  I don't consider myself an expert but I am having a great musical experience playing songs within a given mode.  All of my base information or my starting point is the simple explanation of Modern Modes provided by Roger Nicholson in the Dulcimer Player News in 1996.  The url is below for the online version.  I use the information Roger provided to find simple answers related to a modal song.




For explanation purposes, Roger explains modes in reference to the white keys on a piano and each mode has 7 notes. 

Playing the white keys from A to G provides the notes for the A Aeolian Mode. 

Playing the white keys from B to A provides the B Locrian Mode. 

Playing the white keys from C to B provides the C Ionian mode. 

D to C is the D Dorian Mode

E to D is the E Phrygian Mode

F to E is the F Lydian Mode

G to F is the G Mixolydian Mode. 


The white keys help us define the intervals between each of the seven notes in a given modal scale.  Often the ending note of a song defines the tonic note for the mode.  If a Dorian song ends on an E, I refer to it as E Dorian.  The interval between the notes are the same if a Dorian song is played in E Dorian, but the scale of notes will have two sharp notes where the same song in D Dorian will not have any sharp notes.  E Dorian = E F# G A B c# d where D Dorian = D E F G A B c d. 


I suspect modes developed more for vocal use, so a song may have been sung in a given mode within the vocal range of the singer.  For my vocal range I prefer to stay above a low A' and I prefer to stay below a high d (A' B' C D E F G A B c d).  For my voice, I might change a given modal song depending on the low note and the high note of the song.  For an Aeolian song, I might prefer to sing it in C Aeolian (Ab Bb C D Eb F G).


So, from Roger's explanation I derived that a song is within one of the modern modes if it has all 7 notes of the mode.  All seven notes do not have to be in the same octave (this might be my rule and the experts might disagree).  The chords for a modal song should only contain the notes in the mode.  Playing chords with notes outside of the mode blur the modality but can make beautiful sounds for those intervals.


So, I am sorry for all of this long expanation, but now I can provide quick answers based on the way I view modes and the mode for a given song.  This also gives me a chance to provide backup explanation for some of the topics discussed in our workshop at the Gathering (a pdf file is attached).


Old Joe Clark (the way I play it) is Mixolydian.  If the song ends on a D (the way it is played by many mountain dulcimer players), I consider it to be D Mixolydian.  If it ends on a G, I consider it to be G Mixolydian and all of the notes are on the right side of the psaltery.


June Apple (the way I play it) is Mixolydian.  Likewise if the song ends on a D (the way it is played by many mountain dulcimer players), I consider it to be D Mixolydian.  If it ends on a G, I consider it to be G Mixolydian and all of the notes are on the right side of the psaltery.


Scarborough Fair (the way I play it) is Dorian.  If the song is played so it ends on a D, it is D Dorian and all of the notes are on the right side of the psaltery.


Arran Boat Song is Dorian.  Many mountain dulcimer players play it in E Dorian.  If the song is played so it ends on a D, it is D Dorian and all of the notes are on the right side of the psaltery.


I hope this explanation proves to be useful (and accurate).  I hope that you have as much fun playing in the mode.

Thanks again




Thank you very much for your deliberate explanation.  I read about the modes in a music theory book some ten years ago but I couldn’t understand them very well, perhaps because the book I read did not have any example songs at all.  Later I came across with songs like Old Joe Clark and Arran Boat Song and I began to suspect that they might be the songs played in some ‘mode’. since in these songs there are certain notes which do not belong to the ordinary major or minor scale constantly appear.  Your explanation made my understanding very clear.  Thank you very much. 

I looked up hypophrygian in Wikipedia.  It will take months for me to understand what was written there. 




The hypo's and hyper's and all of the other complicated explanations just confused me, so I'm trying to start simple with just the seven notes and their intervals.  If I know how a song is supposed to sound, then I try to play it by ear using just the notes on the right side of the psaltery.  I might have to change the starting note, but if the song fits with just the notes on the right side, it might be within a mode.  This method is somewhat reverse from identifying it from the sheet music, but modes existed before sheet music and I think people originally learned by sound.



I've read a little about the Scottish influences on modes.  This url goes to Jack Campin's site "Scales and Modes in Scottish Traditional Music".  It's a lot to read and I've only read part of it so far.




Thank you very much Jeremy-san and Dave-san.    
I am not quite sure what Jeremy-san meant by "within the same set of notes, there are of course eleven other scales attainable," I guessed it might be the following and did an experiment. 
Since C Dorian mode consists with the same notes as the B flat major scale, (likewise, C Phrygian, A flat, C Lydian, G, C Mixolydian, F, C Aeolian, E flat, C Locrian, D flat, and of course C Ionian, C) I played these major scales on the piano with C or Cm chord.  (I switched between C and Cm chord whether the scale has the E or E flat note; major or minor 3rd to C.) This helped me a lot to get the ‘feel’ of each mode. 
Then I tried the same thing with the rest of the major scales; D, A, E, B, and F#.  These scales do not contain the C note and I had a feeling they are somewhat irrelevant either to the C or Cm chord. 


I think you're exactly correct in your experiment with C modes. 

For the rest of the scales and if I understand your experiment correctly, it appears you might be playing a scale and then looking for a mode in the scale and or a chord for the scale. 

Modes are not keys, but each mode can be represented with a modern key signature.

For the D major scale, all of the modes have a place.  Often the chord that goes with the 'feel' of the mode is a form of the chord that contains the name of the mode.  E Dorian is within the D Major scale using E F# G A B C# D, so Em or forms of Em would be the chord I would use. 

For the A major scale, all of the modes have a place.  A Ionian, B Dorian, C# Phrygian, D Lydian, E Mixolydian, F# Aeolian, and G# Locrian are all within the A major scale.  The chord that I would use would be a form of the major or minor chord for each mode.  A major for A Ionian, Bm for B Dorian, and so on. 

Sometimes I have found more feeling using a minor 7th, minor 9th, suspended, or other chord form of the mode.  When I was working on the chords for Los Bilbilicos in E Phrygian, I was trying to decide if the song should end with an Em or E7sus4.  Both chords are okay depending on what I want to feel.


Sorry this is getting so in depth, but modes have been such a mystery to me and it took me a long time to understand what I think I currently understand.  As I learn to understand more, the musical experience has been much more rewarding.  The people who arranged the modes were special but they also didn't have all of the clutter of modern music instruction to get in the way.


Thank you very much for your reply, Dave-san. 

As to D, A, E, B, and F# major scales, I made the explanation too short in my last entry, making it hard to understand.  I am sorry for that.  

As we discussed earlier, C Dorian mode consists with the same notes as the B flat major scale, and likewise, C Phrygian, A flat, C Lydian, G, C Mixolydian, F, C Aeolian, E flat, C Locrian, D flat, and of course C Ionian, C.  

D, A, E, B, and F# major scales are the major scales that do not appear in the list above; they do not become any mode when the tonic note is C.  Just out of curiosity (partly because Jeremy-san mentioned "within the same set of notes, there are of course eleven other scales attainable," in his previous entry), I played these major scales on C and Cm chord.  The result is, (this is just my feeling, though) I felt them very strange.  I had a feeling that these major scales are totally irrelevant to C or Cm chord.  Part of the reason might be that these major scales do not contain the C note in them. 

However, I would like to add that, if we look things in the opposite way, I guess the modulations (I am surprised to find out that the change of the keys is called ‘modulation’ in English!  ) from D major to C major, from A major to C major, from E major to C major are quite possible.  I suspect these modulations might have something to do with the mode, because C major scale do become a mode when the tonic is D, A, E and B: C major scale consists of the same notes as D Dorian, A Aeolian, E Phrygian, and B Locrian mode.  As I am writing this it just hit my mind that, we often come across with the modulation from A major to C major.  Since C major scale consists of the same notes as A natural minor scale, the modulation is the same thing as the modulation from A major to A minor, and in terms of the mode, from A Aeolian to A Ionian mode.  



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