What is Melody-Only Style?

by Steve Eulberg

When we are playing the melody of a tune, without adding any chords, bass notes, harmony notes or drones, this is playing our dulcimers like they are melody-only instruments like flutes, trumpets, clarinets or trombones.  This way of playing focuses on the melody and doesn't have the distraction of other notes.

HD Drawing


On the hammered dulcimer, the player is playing only the melody of the tune.


Md DrawingAngle

On the mountain dulcimer, the player is playing on the string(s) which are required for the melody in single-string style, whether playing linearly all on the melody string(s) or playing in flatpicking style across the strings.

For many instruments this is also known as playing the "elemental" version of the tune which is clear and uncluttered by harmonies, ornaments, or any embellishments.

I like to call this the "Tree", reminding people that generally, whenever we put up our Christmas Tree we don't decorate it before we get it set up sturdily.  Only AFTER it is set up do we add the ornaments.


I encourage all of my students to learn songs in this way BEFORE adding anything else.  This keeps us all from being stuck or beholden to a particular arrangement of the tune before we are truly accustomed to the tune itself.

This is a perfectly legitimate way of playing, AND serves as a solid foundation for everything we learn after it.



Steve Eulberg

Thanks, Gary, that makes perfect sense, and you are an excellent example of someone who flatpicks across the strings elegantly and effectively! Steve
Read more
Read less
Gary Gallier

I agree that melody only is a very foundational approach to first embedding the melody in your brain in a musical sense, and also helps you hear what possibly could be missing that would enhance that melody, even if at the time you don't know what that missing thing is. The places where fill runs or harmony/chord has space to fill, or not, helps develop ideas for arrangements, or fleshing out the melody. I can only speak to flatpicking across strings in another sense however. Many times you really can't help but play chords when playing cross string. Many melodic runs in this style are actually notes that are contained in chords and unless you want to chop off each note you pick, then the chord will at a minimum be implied, if not actually singing, as you play the melody only run. For example, if 3 bass is the first note of the melody run, followed by open middle, followed by fret one middle. You pick the 3 and while it is ringing you pick the open middle, then pick the 1 middle. With any kind of tempo at all the 3 bass will still be ringing as the one middle is being played. You end up at least implying the 3 bass, 1 middle G chord even though you are playing melody only. The longer you hold the 3 bass as you go to the open middle to one middle, the more the chord will truly be there rather than implied. This doesn't at all counter anything you are saying, I just think it worthy for the player to at least notice, "gee I just played that cross string melody run out of the G chord position. Where else in the song am I picking individual melody only notes out of a chord position ? " Hope that makes sense.. Gary Gallier
Read more
Read less