I don't remember when I was first introduced to the mountain dulcimer, but I remember the first time I saw mine in a shop window.  I was taken with the hawk's head carved into the scroll, and  I knew it was meant to come home with me.  Since my dreams were big and my budget was small, I made a down payment and figured it would be a while before we would be a team.  Then one afternoon my husband came home from work and pushed a narrow, brown case through the partially opened back door . . . all I could see was his arm and the case because he was still hiding outside the door!  He'd made the rest of the payments and surprised me with my beautiful instrument.  I had no idea how to play a mountain dulcimer, so I bought some Jean Ritchie records and books, and went to work.  I will always remember the day my dulcimer found it's way home.


Full view of the mountain dulcimer.The mountain dulcimer belongs to the family of chordophones, or instruments that produce sound through the vibration of strings.  It is the traditional instrument of the Southern Appalachian Mountains of the United States.











Mountain dulcimer long view;sepia.

Although the mountain dulcimer and hammered dulcimer are both chordophones that is where the similarity ends.







Bottom of the dulcimer fretboard.


The mountain dulcimer has only four strings, it is fretted and is played by plucking, while the hammered dulcimer has many strings, no frets, and is played by using small hammers to strike the strings.





Dulcimer view looking down the fretboard.


The word, dulcimer comes from the Latin: dulcis – sweet, and the Greek: melos – song.  Taken together, dulcimer means, ‘sweet song.’











Close-up of star-shaped sound holes; sepia tone



The Mountain Dulcimer has been known by different names:  Appalachian Dulcimer, lap dulcimer, Kentucky dulcimer, delcumer, dulcymore, harmonium, hog fiddle, music box, and harmony box.




Close-up of top half of dulcimer fretboard


The mountain dulcimer is basically a fretted zither.  Relatives of the dulcimer found in other countries include; the epinette of France, the langeleik of Norway, the scheitholt of Germany, and the hummel of Holland.




B & W close-up of star sound hole & strings on dulcimer


The first string on a dulcimer is doubled, and it carries the melody.  The other two strings, the middle and the bass, typically play a drone.  However, because the dulcimer is fretted, it’s possible to play chords, too.









Looking up at the dulcimer


The dulcimer fretboard is diatonic, so it is a modal instrument.  It is tuned to one of the six Greek modes, depending on the song that is played:  Ionian (major), Aeolian (minor), Mixolydian, Dorian, Lydian, or Phrygian.












Lengthwise sideview of dulcimer

Although there are few historical records of the mountain dulcimer, its development is divided into three periods:  transitional (1700 to mid-1800’s), pre-revival or traditional (mid-1800’s to 1940), and revival or contemporary (after 1940).




vertical view of dulcimer

An early, well-known dulcimer maker was J. Edward Thomas, of Knott County, Kentucky.  He made instruments between 1871 and 1930, and peddled them from the back of a mule cart.











B&W image of dulcimer


In the early 1900’s, John Jacob Niles was one of several scholars and folk music enthusiasts that introduced the mountain dulcimer to the American public.




dulcimer tuning pegs


After the 1940’s, Kentucky-born performer and recording artist, Jean Ritchie, introduced the mountain dulcimer to the folk revival scene of the urban northeast.  She also published the first major instruction and repertoire books for the dulcimer.






Dulcimer laying on its side


Mountain dulcimers come in different shapes.  The most common is the hourglass; mine is shaped like a teardrop.





Close-up of hawk carved scroll on dulcimer



Dulcimers traditionally have a simple scroll.  Some makers carve more intricate scrolls like mine.








Close-up of hawk's head scroll and loon ceramic whistle

Music and art imitating nature.  This ceramic whistle in my collection is made in the form of a loon . . . an interesting contrast to my dulcimer.




Here is a video of Jean Ritchie playing  the mountain dulcimer and singing "Shady Grove."  Notice she is using a 'noter, ' or piece of wood to fret the instrument with her left hand, and a feather as a plectrum, or pick.  This is a video of her appearance on a program with Pete Seeger, who is sitting by listening.  Jean is one of my favorite folk artists and she can be credited for bringing the mountain dulcimer into the mainstream folk scene.  Her lovely, plaintive voice and sincere delivery make folk music come alive for me.




This was the only video clip I could find of John Jacob Niles performing live.  He built his own large, dulcimer like instruments.  His passionate, falsetto voice has an other-worldly quality.  John Jacob Niles is also the composer of the haunting Christmas song, "I Wonder As I Wander."  It's worth searching for his recordings; he was unique in all the world of folk music.  This video also has some commentary from Bob Dylan . . . it's a treat to watch.




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New Release

Diane's new single, an original, finger-style guitar tune, "Afternoon By A Stream," is out now on iTunes!

You can also purchase a download directly through CD Baby on Diane's SHOP page.


An image of a young boy wading in a shallow stream surrounded by moss-covered, sandstone cliffs