Joni Mitchell: California

November 4, 2007

Live performance on BBC from October 9, 1970. Joni is playing her famous dulcimer. Note she only plays bar chords because her bout with polio in her youth left her with weak hands. I love the arch of her strumming hand.

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November 4, 2007 at 11:55 pm

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Roger Bourland November 5, 2007 at 6:11 am

Herb just wrote:

Regardless of Mitchell’s medical history, she’s playing dulcimer in a relatively traditional manner.

The instrument is usually tuned with two strings in an open fifth and one or more other string(s) are tuned so that the diatonically (rather than chromatically) spaced frets form one of the seven church modes using the tonic of the open fifth.

The most basic way to play is to then strum all the strings and fret only the string(s) that aren’t part of the open fifth drone, sometimes using a stick rather than a finger to do so. But since some at least the 1960s, it’s not uncommon for dulcimer players, especially those with more than the basic three-strings, to fret more than one string or use some kind of open tuning.

This is not to say that Mitchell may not have chosen to play dulcimer because it easier for someone with her history of polio, but there’s nothing that she’s doing in this video that’s necessarily the result of her illness.



What I should have said is that Joni eventually used this bar chord technique on the guitar. Thanks for the clarification Herb.

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