The dulcimer is a stringed instrument popular in folk music and often characterized by its sweet and simple sound. Believed to have originated in the Appalachian region of the United States, the dulcimer has a rich history and continues to be a beloved instrument in modern folk music. In this article, we will explore the origins and evolution of the dulcimer, its different types, how to play it, its role in folk music, and the benefits of playing it.
The dulcimer is a fretted string instrument with three to five strings. It is often played by plucking or strumming the strings with a pick or using a bow. It has a hollow, elongated body and a fretboard that runs along its length. Some dulcimers have a single bridge, while others have two or more bridges to accommodate different tunings.
Where Did Dulcimer Originate?
The dulcimer has its roots in the Appalachian region of the United States, where it was mainly used by early settlers and mountain musicians. However, some believe that the instrument was brought to the region by immigrants from Germany, England, and Scotland. In some parts of Europe, the dulcimer is also known as a zither or scheitholt.
How Has Dulcimer Evolved Over Time?
Over time, the dulcimer has evolved into different types, each with its unique sound and playing technique. Some popular types include the Appalachian dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, and hammered dulcimer. The instrument has also found its way into other cultures and has been adapted and modified into various regional variations.
The Appalachian dulcimer, also known as a lap dulcimer, is a popular type of dulcimer in the United States. It is usually smaller in size than other types and is played by placing it on the lap and strumming the strings with a pick. The mountain dulcimer, also known as a fretted dulcimer, is another common type that is played by plucking the strings with a pick or using a bow. The hammered dulcimer, on the other hand, is played by striking the strings with small hammers.
Next, we will dive into how to play the dulcimer and its role in folk music.
What Is a Dulcimer?
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A dulcimer is a stringed instrument with a sweet, melodious sound often associated with folk music. It comes in various forms, including the hammered dulcimer and the mountain dulcimer. The instrument is commonly played on the lap or held against the chest. Interestingly, the term “dulcimer” is derived from the Latin word “dulcis,” meaning sweet or pleasant.
The History of Dulcimer
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The history of the dulcimer can be traced back to ancient times, with origins in Persia and the Middle East. Over the centuries, it has evolved and become an important part of folk traditions in many cultures, including the Appalachian region in the United States. The sweet and simple sound of the dulcimer has captured the hearts of music enthusiasts for generations, adding to the colorful tapestry of folk music history.
Where Did Dulcimer Originate?
The dulcimer originated in the Middle East and was brought to Europe during the medieval period, evolving into various forms. It has a rich history in cultures such as Persian, Greek, and Byzantine. The instrument’s name, dulcimer, comes from the Latin word ‘dulcis’ meaning ‘sweet’ and the Greek word ‘melos’ meaning ‘song.’ The dulcimer’s sweet and soothing sound has stood the test of time and remains a beloved instrument in folk traditions.
How Has Dulcimer Evolved Over Time?
The evolution of the dulcimer over time has been marked by several key developments:
- Early origins: The dulcimer has its roots in the Middle East, evolving from various zither-like instruments.
- European influences: As it spread to Europe, the dulcimer underwent changes in structure and playing techniques.
- American variations: In the United States, the dulcimer underwent further evolution, leading to the creation of distinct Appalachian and mountain dulcimer styles.
- Modern adaptations: Today, the dulcimer continues to evolve through innovations in material, design, and playing styles, making it a versatile and dynamic instrument.
The Different Types of Dulcimer
The dulcimer is a stringed instrument with a rich history deeply rooted in folk traditions. There are various types of dulcimers, each with its own unique sound and playing style. In this section, we will explore the differences between the three main types of dulcimers: the Appalachian dulcimer, the mountain dulcimer, and the hammered dulcimer. By understanding the distinctions between these instruments, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse and beautiful sounds of the dulcimer.
1. Appalachian Dulcimer
- Originating in the Appalachian region, the Appalachian Dulcimer was created by early settlers.
- Construction: Handcrafted from local woods such as walnut or cherry, it is equipped with three to four strings and a fretted fingerboard.
- Playing Technique: Typically played on the lap, it is strummed or plucked to produce sweet melodies.
When diving into the world of the Appalachian Dulcimer, be sure to explore traditional tunes and join local jam sessions to enhance your skills.
2. Mountain Dulcimer
- Origin: The mountain dulcimer, also known as the Appalachian dulcimer, has its roots in the Appalachian region of the United States.
- Construction: Typically, it features a narrow, elongated body with a fretted fingerboard and is played on the lap or table.
- Strings: The mountain dulcimer commonly has four strings, arranged in courses of two, and is played with either a pick or fingerpicking style.
- Tuning: While the most common tuning for the mountain dulcimer is DAD, there are also variations available.
3. Hammered Dulcimer
- Origin: The Hammered Dulcimer can be traced back to its roots in the Middle East, dating back to around 900 AD.
- Evolution: Over time, it spread to Europe and other parts of the world, undergoing modifications in both its structure and playing techniques.
- Playing Techniques: Players use small hammers to strike the strings, producing a rich and resonant sound.
How to Play the Dulcimer
The dulcimer, also known as the mountain dulcimer, is a stringed instrument known for its sweet and simple sound. Learning to play this folk instrument is a rewarding experience that can connect you to rich cultural traditions. In this section, we will cover the basics of how to play the dulcimer, including how to tune the instrument, various playing techniques, and common chords and melodies to get you started on your dulcimer journey.
1. Tuning the Dulcimer
- Begin by placing the dulcimer on a flat surface.
- Next, tune the bass string to D3 and the middle string to A3.
- Finally, tune the melody string to D4.
2. Playing Techniques
- Familiarize yourself with the different types of hammer strikes, including the melody note, bass note, and chord note.
- Practice using a noter, a small stick used to fret the strings, and experiment with different rhythm patterns and playing techniques.
- Learn about the technique of playing double stops, where two strings are stopped and played together to produce a harmonious sound.
Did you know? The technique of playing double stops on the dulcimer is similar to the technique used in playing the violin.
3. Common Chords and Melodies
- Common chords for the dulcimer include DAD, DAA, and DAC.
- Popular melodies for the dulcimer consist of songs such as ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Simple Gifts’, and ‘Shady Grove’.
- Explore different strumming and picking patterns to enhance your dulcimer playing.
The Role of Dulcimer in Folk Music
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The dulcimer has long been a staple in folk music, adding a sweet and simple sound to traditional songs and modern compositions alike. In this section, we will explore the role of the dulcimer in folk music. We will take a look at some beloved traditional folk songs that feature the dulcimer, as well as modern folk artists who incorporate the instrument into their music. Additionally, we will delve into the use of dulcimer in different cultures and how it has evolved over time.
1. Traditional Folk Songs with Dulcimer
- Explore the classic repertoire of traditional folk songs with dulcimer, including ‘Barbara Allen’ and ‘The Water Is Wide’.
- Discover regional favorites like ‘Shady Grove’ or ‘Pretty Saro’ to delve into specific cultural traditions.
- Experiment with variations of ‘Black is the Color’ or ‘Wildwood Flower’ to adapt the dulcimer’s sweet tones to different melodies.
2. Modern Folk Artists Using Dulcimer
- 2. Modern folk artists using dulcimer: Some of the most talented musicians, such as Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and Neil Young, have incorporated the dulcimer into their music, adding a unique folk touch to their compositions.
Pro-tip: When exploring modern folk artists who use the dulcimer, don’t limit your search to mainstream musicians. There are many independent and emerging artists who skillfully blend dulcimer melodies into their contemporary folk tunes.
3. Dulcimer in Different Cultures
- In the Middle East, the dulcimer is known as the santur and is a crucial instrument in Persian and Arabic music.
- Asian cultures, such as Chinese and Indian, have variations of the dulcimer, known as the yangqin and santoor respectively.
- European cultures, including Hungarian and Romanian, also have their own versions of the dulcimer, such as the cimbalom.
Pro-tip: When exploring the role of the dulcimer in different cultures, consider learning traditional tunes or collaborating with musicians from diverse backgrounds.
Benefits of Playing Dulcimer
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The dulcimer is a traditional stringed instrument that has been played for centuries in folk music. Beyond its sweet and simple sound, playing the dulcimer can bring a multitude of benefits to both the mind and body. In this section, we will explore the various advantages of playing the dulcimer, including how it can relieve stress and promote relaxation, improve hand-eye coordination, and enhance creativity and self-expression. So, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of playing this beloved instrument.
1. Relieves Stress and Promotes Relaxation
- Find a quiet, comfortable space to play the dulcimer.
- Focus on the soothing melodies and rhythm to calm the mind.
- Practice deep breathing while playing to enhance relaxation.
Suggestions: Consider incorporating dulcimer music into your daily routine to experience the stress-relieving and calming benefits of this instrument firsthand.
2. Improves Hand-Eye Coordination
- Practice basic hand-eye coordination exercises, such as tracking a moving object with your eyes while using your hands to follow its path.
- Engage in activities like playing video games or sports that require hand-eye coordination to improve your skills and abilities.
- Participate in dulcimer playing, a musical activity that involves precise finger movements and coordination between the hand and eye to pluck the strings accurately.
3. Enhances Creativity and Self-Expression
- Experiment with different playing techniques to enhance creativity and self-expression, and discover new sounds and melodies.
- Compose original music or adapt existing pieces to incorporate your unique style and further express yourself.
- Participate in jam sessions or collaborate with other musicians to explore diverse musical expressions and push the boundaries of your creativity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the dulcimer and why was it popular during the Craft Revival period?
The dulcimer is a hand-made wooden instrument that was popular during the Craft Revival period. It is also known as a hog fiddle, music box, scattlin, Appalachian, mountain, or lap dulcimer. Its gentle yet arresting sound made it a popular choice among rural folks, who often used it as a singer’s companion during the playing of hymns or ballads.
Who was J. E. “Uncle Eddy” Thomas and how did he contribute to the Craft Revival period?
J. E. “Uncle Eddy” Thomas was a skilled and prolific maker of the dulcimer during the Craft Revival period. He crafted nearly 1,500 instruments, using simple tools and special skills to create unique designs and sounds. He exemplifies the essence of the Craft Revival period, as he was able to earn a living from his craft.
What makes the dulcimer unique compared to other instruments of its time?
The dulcimer is unique due to its freedom of design, allowing for a range of shapes and sound holes. Its sound resonation is also different depending on the materials used, such as walnut, maple, birch, or cedar. It is similar to the Zither, but its design and sound can vary greatly from maker to maker.
Was the dulcimer a preconceived design pattern or did it evolve from a faint memory of another instrument?
There is debate over the origins of the dulcimer, with some suggesting that it was created from a faint memory of another instrument. However, its unique design and sound set it apart from mass-produced instruments of its time.
Is there a limited number of dulcimers from the Craft Revival period still in existence today?
Yes, there are few dulcimers in existence today that were made before the 20th century. This is due to the fact that they were hand-made products and not as widely manufactured as their counterparts.
How is the dulcimer relevant today and how is it being preserved for future generations?
The dulcimer is still played and appreciated today, with many musicians and enthusiasts keeping the tradition alive. There are also digital offerings such as the Appalachian Dulcimer Book, which provides resources and information on the instrument. Additionally, organizations like the Craft Revival Project and the Michael Murphy Gallery are dedicated to preserving the history and art of the dulcimer.