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Dulcimer for dummies

25 Sep 00 - 09:29 PM (#305426)
Subject: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,Sarah

OK guys I just got a mountain dulcimer and know nothing. Got any suggestions or good websites??

25 Sep 00 - 09:31 PM (#305428)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Bugsy

never played one myself, but once saw a guy play one like a guitar, only fingered the board overhand (if you get my drift). Sounded pretty good and meant that he could stand up whilst playing. Always a good move in my book.



25 Sep 00 - 09:38 PM (#305437)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: catspaw49

Start with Jean Ritchie's book and then go to Larkin Bryant. Available at Elderly Instruments. There are also a number of threads relating to this....Enter dulcimer in the search box and read a boatload, from construction, to history, to playing methods.

There are a lot of really great books available, but the two above will make you a fine player and are very well done by two superb players and great indivduals.


27 Sep 00 - 03:57 AM (#306378)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: DeeAnn

Great dulcimer learning sites and a bunch of really nice people can be found here:

"Sweet Music Digest" (Fretted Dulcimer) for free subscription send an e-mail to Send the following message in the body of your e-mail without the quotation marks and parentheses: "Subscribe dulcimer-list(add your personal e-mail address on the same line)". This is an automated system and will not subscribe you if your message isn't typed exactly as above.

At you can also get onto the "Dulcimer Friends" digest. A subscription is necessary but is also free. "Dulcimer Players News" - a journal for both hammered and fretted dulcimer players. This is a magazine published and delivered to your door bimonthly. However, the web site is very informative and will help you find other resources and links.

I've been playing and performing on mountain dulcimer for 10 years and have other resources if needed.

27 Sep 00 - 10:41 PM (#307071)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Sean Belt

'Spaw is right about Jean Ritchie's book. It's one of the best. I'd also recommend either of Lois Hornbostel's books on fiddle tunes. Both are available through Mel Bay publishers. They're geared towards players from novice on up and have tons of fun tunes to learn.

Glad to have another dulcimer player in the crowd!
- Sean

28 Sep 00 - 12:22 AM (#307128)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: NH Dave

Some years ago Howie Mitchel made a small book on dulcimers in general and included a record of his playing in the various styles. Originally it was available from Folk Legacy, in Sharon Mtn Rd, Sharon, CT 06069, 1 204 364 5661. The last time I ordered it, Caroline said that the record was no longer available but that she has a tape of the record - it is their label, she can do what she wants - so you'd best check with her as to availability of either item.

This book seems to have been the result of making many of his "lab notes" into a readable dissertation and including music demonstrating various points that he made. He covered making and tuning dulcimers, several styles of playing, a good discussion of modal tunings with music illustrating each, and other neat stuff for the beginner. He has also done a similar work on hammered dulcimers which is interesting as well.


28 Sep 00 - 08:50 AM (#307252)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,

Homespun Tapes offers lessons on how to play the mountain dulcimer and the hammer dulcimer. Their website is


28 Sep 00 - 09:39 AM (#307275)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Banjoman_CO

Sarah: I,too, am just starting to get serious about the mountain dulcimer. The advise above is very good. I started in the "Larkin's Dulcimer Book" and its great. I seem to be getting the hang of it very quickly. The Jean Richey book is great. My advise to you is to learn as many styles as you can, and out of that develope your own style. As was stated above, there are a lot of good books out there. Get with as many other players as possible, this is where you will really learn. We beginners need to stick together, so keep in touch and maybe share some ideas. Best of luck


28 Sep 00 - 12:02 PM (#307358)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for BEGINING dummies!!!
From: GUEST,

Hello everyone!!

Just bought a Black Mountain Dulcimer 6 months ago and love it!! I bring it around guitar circles and they are impressed! They say they like the way the sound fills. I use is mainly as a rhythm instrument as I also play harmonica (with a harp holder). I find most guitarist can't keep rhythm, which is why I first bought a tamborine, but wanted to get more musical (I started out with clarient, then Saxophone, then harmonica) I have been slowly transcribing songs for the mountain dulcimer. Some of the tunes I've got are: Wild Mountain Thyme (Byrds), Ripple (Greatful Dead), Losing True (The Rouches)The New York Mining Diasaster of 1941 (BeeGees), a few Beatles, Kate Wolf, Indigo Girls, Mountain(Mountain!!?!). I am in the southern Baltimore area and am looking to form a dulcimer society in eastern MAryland (I know of one in Rockville and a little farther west- sorry people, too far for me). I bought my dulcimer from Appalacian Bluegrass in Catonsville, Maryland, and they have been selling dulcimers! So I know you're out there!!! My ad will soon be appearing in Dulcimer Players News. If anyone in the area is interested in getting together, PLEASE e-mail me!! I'm trying to get a little "project" going. Thank you all and KEEP PLAYING!!!

"Photo" Mike

28 Sep 00 - 12:41 PM (#307379)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: black walnut

The Homespun dulcimer tapes mentioned above are REALLY worth the money... I have Lorraine Lee Hammond's teaching tape set that comes with a book with tablature.

In a way,they are like having many, many, private lessons, from a dulcimer master, for much less money than actual lessons would be. You can go at your own speed, play things back over and over again, hear what you're aiming to sound like....and the Hammond tapes take you from beginner lessons, to changing modes, to harder things like chording and sliding (with a slide).

So, that's my recommendation. I think books alone can be quite helpful, (I love Lorraine's 'The Magic Dulcimer' as a beginner/intermediate book in addition to the others already mentioned), but to hear the sound of the songs you're working on, presented in a clear organized fashion,is going to take you way farther, imho....

~black walnut

28 Sep 00 - 12:56 PM (#307390)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: KathWestra

A lot of what constitutes a "good" dulcimer book depends on what you want to sound like when you're through, and whether you want to use the instrument as an accompaniment for singing (and if so, what kind of songs you want to accompany.

Jean Ritchie plays in the very simple, traditional style -- melody played on one string (or a doubled string), and the other two strings as drones, often using a "noter" to play the melody. It's a wonderful sound for the old Appalachian play-parties and ballads. Her book, which is called "The Dulcimer Book," is a splendid, easy-to-understand introduction to this style of playing.

Lorraine Lee Hammond has taken mountain dulcimer playing in a very different -- but no less lovely -- direction. She can make a mountain dulcimer sound like an orchestra, using all the available strings for melody and harmony, and doing some pretty complex finger-picking. If it were me, I would want to start simpler. But that's a matter of personal choice. I agree that in general, the Homespun tapes are very well done and easy to follow (although I haven't seen Lorraine's. Lorraine also has a book, called "The Magic Dulcimer," which is still available and which is very clearly written. Lorraine's dulcimer renditions of traditional Celtic and mountain tunes are breathtaking, and this book helps show you how to do that.

28 Sep 00 - 01:47 PM (#307435)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: black walnut

Kath Westra
I agree with what you're saying...but will add that I do think the Hammond tapes are quite accessible to a real beginner. I also think another difference in choosing teaching aids has to do with whether one already knows how to play any other instruments. Some materials stay at a very basic level for a long time, others advance more quickly.

I'd encourage a beginner to invest in an electronic tuner, unless they'll always have a piano handy, or know how to use a pitch-pipe well. Getting it tuned well and quickly, and then getting right to the good old playing, is so much more fun than sounding bad or breaking strings.

How is all this sounding to you, Sarah? Are you getting too overwhelmed? What drew you to the dulcimer? For me, it was the drone sound that reminded me of my dad's bagpipes....


29 Sep 00 - 05:45 AM (#308041)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,

I noticed there is an instruction tape by Jean Richie which may be more suitable for beginers.


29 Sep 00 - 09:24 AM (#308116)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Pinetop Slim

Along with the books, dulcimer festivals highly recommended. In Pawtucket, R.I., area, "Mountain Music in the Ocean State" is set for Saturday, Nov. 4. It runs from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (find details on Atwater-Donnelly and Stone Soup web sites), followed by a concert at 7 or 8. Jean Ritchie will be there. Workshop leaders will include Aubrey Atwater, Elwood Donnelly, Heidi and John Cerrigione and a few others whose names don't come immediately to mind. Expect sessions for mountain dulcimer, fiddle, banjo, rhythm, and maybe storytelling, slow jam etc. Great festival, great setting (imagine playing Cotton Mill Girls at America's first textile mill).

29 Sep 00 - 09:52 AM (#308127)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: catspaw49

Oh thank gawd...PINETOP SLIM.....I couldn't remember what you'd changed to....I'll PM you later this week....I gotta' write that down.....PINETOP it.


01 Oct 00 - 08:34 PM (#309903)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Pinetop Slim

Some stray thoughts while I wait for that PM (it's not something painful, is it?) Jean Ritchie's instructional tape at Homespun, if memory serves, takes the student through "I'm Going Downtown" and an uncommon version of "Old King Cole" in Ionian tuning; "The Cruel Sea" in mixolydian, and "The Cuckoo" in Ionian. It's a real kick to have the best give you a lesson. Her "The Dulcimer Book" covers a lot more ground -- history of the instrument, a couple dozen songs, tips on finger pickin' (though she advises you to try a different instrument if that's what you're after) and thumb strumming of a descant or two. Also at Homespun is a videotape by David Schnaufer, where he'll walk you through "Wildwood Flower," "Tennessee Waltz" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Nice stuff. I defer to Walnut on Lorraine Lee Hammond's series of audio tapes from Homespun. As for "Magic Dulcimer," I'd have been lost without it. The best dulcimer instruction book to be had, IMHO (I haven't seen Larkin Bryant's, but you can take 'spaw's praise of it to the bank. It's got to be real good). She has the best right brain-left brain balance of anybody I've ever met -- can shift seamlessly from cold logic to artistry, and it shows well in this book. One hitch -- it's written for a three-string dulcimer equipped with light-gauge strings. There's a "rule for tuning" at the start of each chapter that makes it very easy to adapt, but you do have to adapt.

01 Oct 00 - 11:41 PM (#310007)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Little Hawk


Little Hawk should really check out this thread!

- Little Hawk's reflection

10 Sep 10 - 07:40 PM (#2984243)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,kathryn

Dear Dulcimer and music lovers everywhere:

I am a combined 1st and 2nd grade teacher and I also teach music and art for 1st - 8th grade. We are a small school in Terral, Oklahoma and have limited resources. I contacted McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers in Mountain View, Arkansas and they suggested that I post a request online to help my cause. McSpadden has donated one used instrument and I am purchasing 1 cardboard kit with my own money. Can anyone help with any ideas on how to get dulcimer instruments for my classroom? I hope you can give me some ideas on how to get more or who I might contact. I have 18 at a time in class and one or two instruments will not be enough to allow adequate play time for each student. Please help if you can.


10 Sep 10 - 10:06 PM (#2984295)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: The Fooles Troupe

Well, funnily enough, you can get a workable (sorta) mockup of the instrument by using guitars, strung and tuned appropriately to resemble the instrument, should you have easier access to low cost guitars - but it would only be a stopgap measure. It would allow you some educational opportunities to discuss some of the differences between instruments, and the historical reasons for such.

4 to an instrument would be really stretching things - 3 or better 2 to one would be workable, by having the 'assistants' do some useful simultaneous tasks, which I can't think of ATM, but I'm sure that you can get some helpful suggestions here.

11 Sep 10 - 02:53 AM (#2984369)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: Howard Jones

Some years ago, John Pearce did a TV programme in the UK about making and playing dulcimer. He made a "stick dulcimer" which is basically just the fretboard with no body - however if you play it on a table the tabletop acts as a resonator and gives it some volume.   They're fairly easy and cheap to make as you don't have to build the body. It's basically a strip of wood with frets, guitar tuning machine heads at one end and banjo strings looped over nails in the other end.

If your school has a woodwork class then you could even get the kids to make them.

Our own Catspaw wrote instructions on another Mudcat thread:

How to make a stick dulcimer

His has only two strings but you could easily adapt his design to take three.

By the way, if you google "stick dulcimer" you'll come across instruments with a dulcimer neck and small mandolin-like body. These are not the same thing. What I'm talking about is far less sophisticated, but quite easy to make - and it works.

19 Sep 10 - 05:09 AM (#2989586)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,GMGough

If you like the style of Richard Farina's playing it is worth tracking down Neal Hellman's transcriptions published in "The Richard Farina Dulcimer Book". They are very playable. Earlier this year Neal made a PDF of this book available for free, but the YOUSENDIT link has now expired. Maybe an email to Neal at Gourd Music ( might be the answer.

19 Sep 10 - 07:48 PM (#2989973)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: GUEST,Russ


Check out this website:

Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Russ (Permanent GUEST and dulcimer player)

20 Sep 10 - 12:15 PM (#2990314)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies
From: JohnInKansas

For classroom and practice, you might make do with less than a "complete" dulcimer. A "practice dulcimer" is almost trivially simple to make, although a few simple tools make it much easier.

The essential feature is a straight board, with bars (nuts) at each end to support the strings, and frets properly spaced for the notes. and some method to apply and adjust the tension of the strings for tuning, and of course, the strings.

The "box" on which the finger board is usually mounted would help to produce a fuller, and louder, sound; but the "strung finger board" alone, laid (or clamped) on a hard surface such as a table top or desk top, should be loud enough for practice. For easier handling, the simple fingerboard might be glued or stapled to a thin plywood or even stiff cardboard with a "dulcimer shape" to provide better simulation of the "feel" of playing a more finished dulcimer.

Early dulcimers were made with baling wire, staples, nails, and other "found materials" for the frets, although "real fret wire" would greatly simplify making "consistently alike" instruments if you plan to make a half-dozen or dozen at a time.

While it's possible to "hand whittle" tuning pegs, this is a rather time-intensive process and demands significant learned skills. If possible, "junk" geared tuners would make for quicker construction. If you want a "double course" front string, you would want four strings, so "half a mandolin" (one four knob tuner strip) would be convenient. If three strings suffice, half a guitar would work. You might find an instrument seller - especially one who does repairs - willing to donate a few "used" tuners, or sell them fairly cheaply if that's manageable with your resources.

Dulcimer strings are pretty well standardized; and "real strings" would be ideal; but used (donated?) strings from other instruments might be sorted to pick usable sets. Within limits, strings of "the wrong size" merely require more or less tension for tuning, but a significantly higher tension will make fretting (noting) somewhat harder, and too low a tension will give a "flabby" sound.

Several good resources have been suggested by others above, but for best results here being a member may be a significant help. The membership is free and requires only a real name, a name you want to use here, a password you create, and an email address. All info you provide is confidential, and the email address is needed so that the mud elves can send you help if you forget your password or have other site-related problems.

Members can send "PMs" (Personal Messages) to each other - not seen by any others, allowing you to choose whether to give someone an email addresses or other personal info "in private" and only to the individuals of your choice. Email is a main method here for trading pictures, sketches, and "extended details" for projects such as yours, since the site doesn't accommodate "art work."


07 Nov 11 - 10:38 PM (#3252553)
Subject: RE: Dulcimer for dummies

Have you considered stick dulcimers (like the McNally Strumstick) as an alternative to the mountain dulcimer? Both have the same diatonic fretboard, and there is less material (wood) as the sound box is smaller. Like the MD, there is a regular cottage industry selling this mini-guitar-like instrument. Also, there is an active community of builders on Cigar box Nation (CBN)[] which build for either a source of income, or (like me) just for a hobby. They are very much into sharing ideas. I am one of these hobbyist builders. Starting with cigar boxes, adding a simple home-made neck and headstock, you can build a simple instrument with just several hours of effort. The hard part might be how to fret the neck, but with the info on CBN, and a few builds "under you belt" making instruments is a fun, easy and educational hobby that can pay for itself should you ever decide to sell any of you creation. Also, MD tabs can usually be played on SDs - as long as you realize the melody and bass strings have been swapped around on the SD for easier playing while holding the instrument guitar fashion. If you know a skilled wood worker you might be able to entice him/her to help you out on your builds. If you have many instruments to build in a short time, having access to power tools (especially table saws, band saws, drill presses, electric sanders, routers, and like) is a godsend. You can even build simpler instruments like the one-string diatonically fretted canjo. Also, consider building children sized instruments(with sub-20" scale lengths for easier fingering) - and nylon strings to protect their finger tips. Building your own instruments allows you a lot of freedom in design, and you can build instruments with other specialized fretting systems, including pentatonic, blues-scale, and various Middle Eastern or Indian scales. This way students can learn how music sounds in different cultures just by noodling around on the respective fretboard. (I built one 2-stringer which I made 4 different fret boards,and can easily swap out the fretboard as the are held in place on the neck with 2 tie-wraps. Now I don' happen to have tabs or say, Middle Eastern music, but I can play around with the notes on the appropriate fretboard and come up with tunes that sound similar.)