Dulcimer – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is a Dulcimer?

A dulcimer is a musical instrument that belongs to the string family. It is typically played by striking the strings with a small hammer or pick. The dulcimer has a long, narrow soundbox with strings stretched over a fretted fingerboard. The instrument produces a sweet, melodic sound that is often described as soothing and calming. Dulcimers come in various shapes and sizes, with different numbers of strings depending on the specific type.

History of the Dulcimer

The dulcimer has a long and rich history that dates back to ancient times. The origins of the instrument can be traced back to the Middle East, where it was known as the “santur” or “dulcitar.” The dulcimer eventually made its way to Europe, where it became popular in countries such as England, Germany, and France. In the United States, the dulcimer became a staple of Appalachian folk music and is often associated with the American folk music revival of the 1960s.

Types of Dulcimers

There are several different types of dulcimers, each with its own unique characteristics and playing style. The most common types of dulcimers include the mountain dulcimer, the hammered dulcimer, and the electric dulcimer.

– Mountain Dulcimer: Also known as the Appalachian dulcimer, this type of dulcimer is typically played by strumming or plucking the strings with a pick. It has a long, narrow soundbox and typically has three or four strings.

– Hammered Dulcimer: The hammered dulcimer is played by striking the strings with small hammers. It has a larger soundbox than the mountain dulcimer and can have anywhere from 12 to 100 strings.

– Electric Dulcimer: The electric dulcimer is a modern variation of the traditional dulcimer that uses electronic amplification to produce a louder sound. It is often used in contemporary music genres such as rock and jazz.

How is a Dulcimer played?

The dulcimer is played by striking the strings with a small hammer or pick. The player can create a variety of sounds by varying the force and speed of their strikes. The dulcimer is typically played while sitting down, with the instrument resting on the player’s lap. Some players also use a noter, which is a small stick that is used to press down on the strings to change the pitch.

Notable Dulcimer players

There have been many talented dulcimer players throughout history who have helped to popularize the instrument and showcase its versatility. Some notable dulcimer players include:

– Jean Ritchie: Known as the “Mother of Folk,” Jean Ritchie was a renowned Appalachian dulcimer player who helped to bring the instrument into the mainstream.

– David Schnaufer: A master of the hammered dulcimer, David Schnaufer was a highly respected musician who collaborated with artists such as Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.

– Stephen Seifert: A virtuoso mountain dulcimer player, Stephen Seifert has won numerous awards for his skillful playing and has taught workshops and classes around the world.

Modern use of the Dulcimer

In recent years, the dulcimer has experienced a resurgence in popularity, with musicians incorporating the instrument into a wide range of musical genres. The dulcimer is often used in folk, bluegrass, and Americana music, but it has also been featured in rock, jazz, and even electronic music. Modern dulcimer players are pushing the boundaries of the instrument, experimenting with new techniques and styles to create innovative and exciting music. The dulcimer continues to captivate audiences with its beautiful sound and timeless appeal.