dulcimer definition, history, learning

Dulcimer: Unique Appalachian Instrument – Definition, History, Learning

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There are many American folk instruments but few have the beautiful sounds of the dulcimer. The dulcimer has a unique history born in the Appalachian mountains, can be hand made, and may be easier to learn than other instruments.

History of the Dulcimer

Larkin Bryant writes in her “Larkin’s Dulcimer Book” that the dulcimer was born in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The instrument itself is roughly 150 years old and has been serenading the hillsides for over a century. Folk stories have been passed down over the years saying that the Pennsylvania German’s that migrated to Virginia in the early 1700s brought dulcimers to the Appalachian Mountains. However, the fretted zithers of the dulcimer can be traced back to medieval times.

What Makes the Dulcimer Unique?

The dulcimer has fretted zithers used for modal scales. Modes are simply scales and changing modes can cause different feelings to come out in the music. This can be the full realm of emotion from sad to scared to happy and joyful. The modes are Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian. A drone might be added to allow harmonizing. Dulcimers are usually handmade in an hourglass or teardrop shape. Dulcimers are easy to learn because of the modality. “Larkin’s Dulcimer Book” has a history of the dulcimer and other information on how to play the dulcimer.

How much May a Dulcimer Cost?

Dulcimers can be found from $50 to $1500 dollars depending on how its made and the craftsmanship that goes into making it. Dulcimers may have the same issues as guitars in that the fret height may be too high and need adjusting. This is a fix that local sellers and instrument makers can handle for minimum cost.

Learning the Dulcimer

The dulcimer is easy to learn if someone already knows how to read music. However, Mel Bay dulcimer books use a number system on the frets and if you know the rhythm of a song, the numbered frets can be memorized in order to play.

Others, with greater musical talents, will have no problem picking up strumming and chord techniques. The dulcimer lays flat and the left hand is used to fret the strings and the right-hand strums. There are three strings and a double on the first string for extra groan. The first and second string on typically tuned the same. Dulcimer sounds will also vary based on the teardrop or hourglass shape, and the type of wood used to build one.

The dulcimer may be easier to pick up than guitar since it’s only got four strings and can be laid flat. Also, learning to play the dulcimer is like playing a deeply embedded mountain heritage. Guitars are common. The dulcimer has a style of its own.

Conclusion: What Is Dulcimer?

As you can see, the dulcimer is an incredibly interesting musical instrument that deserves way more recognition on a global scale. It may not be your first choice when thinking of an instrument to pick up, but it definitely shouldn’t be your last either. While the chances of you finding the instrument in your local store are fairly low, it’s possible to find one online.

Here are a few from Seagull Merlin dulcimers (M4s) that I’ve found on Amazon!

Seagull M4 Merlin Mahogany EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Extra Set of M4 Strings (042517)
Seagull 039227 Merlin Spruce SG Dulcimer 4-String Diatonic Instrument
Seagull Merlin M4 G Mahogany Mountain Dulcimer (Numbered Frets)
Seagull Merlin M4 Spruce EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Gig Bag and Extra M4 String Set
Seagull M4 Merlin Mahogany EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Extra Set of M4 Strings (042517)
Seagull 039227 Merlin Spruce SG Dulcimer 4-String Diatonic Instrument
Seagull Merlin M4 G Mahogany Mountain Dulcimer (Numbered Frets)
Seagull Merlin M4 Spruce EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Gig Bag and Extra M4 String Set
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Seagull M4 Merlin Mahogany EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Extra Set of M4 Strings (042517)
Seagull M4 Merlin Mahogany EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Extra Set of M4 Strings (042517)
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Seagull 039227 Merlin Spruce SG Dulcimer 4-String Diatonic Instrument
Seagull 039227 Merlin Spruce SG Dulcimer 4-String Diatonic Instrument
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Seagull Merlin M4 G Mahogany Mountain Dulcimer (Numbered Frets)
Seagull Merlin M4 G Mahogany Mountain Dulcimer (Numbered Frets)
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Seagull Merlin M4 Spruce EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Gig Bag and Extra M4 String Set
Seagull Merlin M4 Spruce EQ Acoustic-Electric Dulcimer with Gig Bag and Extra M4 String Set
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Last update on 2020-05-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API