It’s called the Appalachian Dulcimer.. or a Mountain Dulcimer. It actually has a pretty interesting history but I won’t bore you with it… You can Google it yourself and find lots of bits on it. Supposedly, the word dulcimer, translates from the Greek “dulce” meaning sweet and the Latin “melos” meaning song, thus the name means sweet song. Basically what you need to know is, it’s a diatonic instrument (meaning you don’t get ALL the sharps and flats…. you get a scale.) Essentially, if I’ve tuned my instrument to the key of D, if I use only the melody string, I can play these notes.
D E F# G A B C
Now, my instrument has an additional fret, which they think was added in the 70’s when it became popular in the folk music counter culture scene, so I also get to play C#.
Neat, right? Sure as heck makes it easier. The dulcimer is a three stringed instrument, but it also sometimes has a fourth string which doubles the melody string.. and sometimes it has four equidistant strings. You can change the tuning to change the scale and notes you can play.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not like modern instruments. It’s simple and elegant and easily adaptable to the musician. Traditionally, the melody is played on the melody string (duh) which is closest to the player and the other two strings are left to drone. Which makes sense when you consider that the Appalachian Mountains were settled by a lot of Scottish immigrants. Don’t know what a drone is? Think bagpipes. There you go. More modern players are also playing chords on the dulcimer. I’m one of those. I also enjoy the drone but I like the flexibility of chords. If you want an example of what the drone sounds like on the dulcimer, check out Don Pedi at the Pickin Porch
My dulcimer sat in the closet for almost 15 years.. maybe more. I have reasons. I won’t talk about them, so don’t ask. When I saw Cyndi Lauper playing her dulcimer on the Tony’s, I said out loud, “hey! where is my dulcimer?”
So LB can blame Cyndi for my current obsession. (LB is not impressed with folk music and has been patiently tolerating my “practicing”)
I decided I needed a little help. I’m pretty ok.. I mean I can play a few things but I’m mostly self taught so I decided to seek out an instructor to help me break any bad habits and learn some new good habits. My first point of reference was Old Songs, a local organization “celebrating and nuturing traditional music and dance since 1977” and they had classes listed on their website.
Long story short (too late), Susan Trump pointed out to me that the Cranberry Dulcimer and Autoharp Gathering was coming up and it was in Latham… LATHAM… that’s a 20 minute trip for me.
So I went… and it was amazing.
Cranberry isn’t a festival.. it’s a gathering.. people from all over come together to learn from each other and play together. I had SO MUCH FUN. I took all of the beginner classes (I think I could have gotten away with some of the advanced beginner classes). I learned some new chords and a bit more on fretting. I think my favorite class of the day (no offense to the other instructors) was taught by George Haggerty who runs the August Dulcimer Daze (which I cannot get to because of previous commitments)
George has this bumper sticker on his case.
After all of the workshops, George was kind enough to show me how to replace my well worn strings on my dulcimer. He really was a hoot.
All and all, I’m so excited that there are SO MANY dulcimer players around. For an instrument no one has heard of, there sure were a lot of us.
Have you ever heard of the Appalachian Dulcimer? If so, where did you hear about it. I’d love to know!
Oh and if you want to get an earful of how flexible the dulcimer can be, Bing Futch will be at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in October.
I think Bing has a few extra frets here… possible a 1+ and definately 6+ (that’s the one I have)