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my non-lap dulcimer

31 Oct 05 - 02:19 PM (#1594314)
Subject: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,leeneia

For you lap (or mountain) dulcimer players, I have some thoughts.

I play my dulcimer quite a bit, and lately my right thumb and elbow have been bothering me. (I fingerpick it, using a thumb pick for the melody, which means I make many, many sideways motions with my right thumb.)

I usually play at the table in our sunroom. This is one of those new "pub height" tables, 38 inches (91 cm) high. Recently I noticed that when I hold the d'er on my lap and sit on the matching chair with its deep seat, that my back doesn't get any support. (My legs are too short for my back to reach the back of the chair.) So I tried setting the dulcimer on the table and standing up to play.

The result is that my thumb and elbow no longer hurt. Also, my husband says that my motions look freer and more relaxed when I play standing.

I don't find it as comfortable to play on the dining room table, which is only 28 inches (71 cm) high, but a person with longer arms might like it. Of course, you can always put the d'er on something (stack of books) to bring it to just the right height for you.

It's necessary to put something under the d'er to keep it from sliding around. I use two small squares on non-slip rubber "shelfpaper".

So if play mountain and you are developing both a big repertoire and a case of tennis elbow, I suggest you try this.

Be sure you are not cocking your wrist when playing. Cocking the wrist can lead to carpal tunnel problems.
This is an instrument which needs a new name. "Mountain" isn't descriptive enough - many people play it in areas with no mountains around. "Lap" is misleading; we don't have to play it on our laps.

How about "hourglass" dulcimer? It's a good approximation of the shape.
My newest piece of Offenbach's Barcarolle.

31 Oct 05 - 02:21 PM (#1594317)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,leeneia

oops - that should be "My newest piece IS Offenbach's Barcarolle."

31 Oct 05 - 03:19 PM (#1594358)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: katlaughing

Kim McKee of Wilson and McKee, one of my favourite duos, from Montana, always plays standing up when in concert. She has special stands made for each of her *lap* dulcimers. I often play mine while standing at the dining table.

Have fun!


31 Oct 05 - 07:28 PM (#1594532)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: NH Dave

Any of a number of manufacturers make folding stands to support an electronic keyboard. These are usually of the form of two crossed arms, like a sawbuck, pivioted in the middle, with cross bars top and bottom to sit on the floor and support the instrument. These seem to be adjustable for height, and should work well, but you won't get any resonance from these stands as you would from a table.


31 Oct 05 - 08:01 PM (#1594563)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: JohnInKansas

One of our friends uses one of the folding stands intended for portable electronic keyboards as a dulcimer stand, and it appears to work quite well for him. Height is adjustable over a fairly wide range, and they're not too expensive. I'm not sure what the actual range of adjustment is on his, but similar stands are used by keyboardists when standing. Portability is good, although it still hasn't stopped him from leaving his coffee cups behind (unintentionally) when trotting around through the campground. Maybe it needs a cupholder.

One other, who was having some problems "tensing up" because the dulcimer kept sliding around on his knees, claims to have solved his "repetitive motion syndrome" problems simply by getting a small scrap of chamois to put between the britches and the instrument to reduce the exertion of chasing the danged thing around while playing.

Several players in our "circle of encounter" have added strap buttons, and use a strap around the back at about waist level. At least one has claimed that the more secure position of the dulcimer was because of "pains" he was getting due to an awkward position he'd fallen into, but wasn't very specific about exactly what was hurting. The straps seem mostly to be used by "serious chorders" who probably have more tendency to shove their instrument around.

One player has a "pet" foldable wooden camp chair that allows him to sit back to a "semi-reclining" postion while playing the dulcimer on his lap, and claims he can "play forever without getting sore" that way. That particular chair is very solid, about 35 pounds, so not exactly portable.

At least one I've known carried a "hard topped" table to sessions with the explanation that when the dulcie is played on a hard surface you don't have to work as hard (and stress your joints as much) to be heard in a group. A hard surface is touted by several of the dulcimer instruction books as a way to get a bit louder output. I've seen at least one "resonance box" that the player put his dulcie on, that he claimed made it sound a lot better and louder.

Several of our dulcimer players are a bit "vertically challenged" and quite a few of them have problems with their feet not quite reaching the ground when using common camp chairs/stools etc., so we've noted that a footrest is a useful addition for long sessions and helps a lot in avoiding "awkward positions" that could produce stress. Impovised stuff like pillows or rolled up jackets usually pop up, but something more sturdy (and stable) would be better. (Yes dear, I remember it's on my "honeydo" list.)


31 Oct 05 - 08:10 PM (#1594567)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,Russ

I keep my lap dulcimer in my lap for a couple of reasons.
That's how I learned to play it.
I played dulcimer for years before I ever saw anybody playing it differently.
Using any kind of support other than my lap would be more trouble than I want to go to. Just another object to lug around.

I've also finger picked for years. Must be doing something right because I've never had pain or any carpal tunnel symptoms.

The instrument already has lots of names. Why multiply terms needlessly? I like calling it a mountain dulcimer because that's where I was when I learned to play it. I also like calling it an Appalachian dulcimer for the same reason. It also is an instrument that has traditionally been associated with Appalachia.

31 Oct 05 - 08:21 PM (#1594575)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: The Fooles Troupe

If one name's as good as another, why not call it a weebleflogger?

31 Oct 05 - 08:23 PM (#1594578)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,Russ

Foolestroupe's suggestion reminded me of another name for it it have run into, "hog fiddle." I did not make that up.

31 Oct 05 - 08:36 PM (#1594590)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: Don Firth

Just a note:

I heard that Paul Clayton (many, many records), who played the guitar mostly, took up the lap dulcimer. After awhile, he picked it up off his lap and held it more like a guitar. Then he made one with a neck that extended beyond the body so it would be easier to get at the fingerboard in that position. Then, to increase its range, he made another one, set up for six strings.

A friend of his suggested that a good tuning for it might be E A D G B and E. . . .

Don Firth

01 Nov 05 - 12:09 AM (#1594717)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: Kaleea

A buddy of mine who used to make 'em has a wooden tripod like stand which sits directly in front of him a couple of feet out. He then hooks the head (tuner portion) over the middle of the tripod. He plays quite proficiently on the fingerboard moving his hand & arm forward & back. He explained to me once that it takes less muscles to move the arm forward & back than side to side. Thus he can be more dextrous in his lively playing.

   I use straps on my tear drop shaped Mtn. Dulcimers which sort of creep up backwards-or aobut 3/4 of the way facing forward-as I play, so over time I began to adapt to that. It also helps to project the sound.
But if ya wanna have some real fun--when I teach beginner workshops, I strap on a Mtn. Dulc. backwards/upside down so that the beginner is looking at me & seeing what his fingerboard looks like.

01 Nov 05 - 09:28 AM (#1594940)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer

Many dulcimers come equipped with very short legs (an inch high, or less) affixed to the bottom. One collector found such a model accompanied by a table that had three notches cut into it, into which the legs fit neatly. That would keep the d'er from slipping, and boost the volume.

01 Nov 05 - 10:13 AM (#1594949)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,leeneia

It's great to see how many dulcimer players are here. I will mull over the many ideas.

As for a new name, I consider the label I have to assign it repeatedly, namely:

"...the mountain dulcimer, not the large, trapezoidal, hammer dulcimer that you see from time to time, but the small, hourglass-shaped dulcimer that sits on your lap..."

to be a bit cumbersome. And now, it seems, many people don't even play it on their lap.

"Mountain" isn't a very good name for an instrument which originated with the Arabs, was brought to America by the Pennsylvania Dutch, and is now being played (at least by me) on glaciated till plains.

Now, back to my biggest challenge -thinking of new pieces to play on it.

01 Nov 05 - 10:30 AM (#1594971)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: katlaughing

I find a lot of neat French tunes which work well with the dulcimer at This Site.

01 Nov 05 - 10:39 AM (#1594984)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker

i'm fairly new to dulcimer after 30 years as a rythm guitarist..

so i've naturally gravitated towards working out chords.
..and rythmic strumming..

i've got 3-string strumsticks i can play standing up..

but i'm also trying to play full bodied hourglass dulcimer
'as if' it were a guitar so i can play it with more forcefull
and dexterous up/down guitar strumming style..

..obviously its not very easy and i can only strum basic chords that way..

so whilst finding Don Firths suggestion ironicaly amusing..

i have already started looking at my least used electric guitars
for a suitable canditate to have a few frets pulled out
and the fingerboard slots filled and smoothed..
and the nut / bridge adapted to take only 4 strings
in dulcimer configuration..

01 Nov 05 - 09:16 PM (#1595431)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: dulcimer42

I attend lots of dulcimer festivals and play the hammered dulcimer, as well as the "other" dulcimer.   I think the best name I've heard for it is the "fretted" dulcimer.   That describes it well, and distinguishes 'which' dulcimer are referring to.

01 Nov 05 - 09:37 PM (#1595443)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: Kaleea

leenia, the strummed/fretted/lap/appalachian/etc. Dulcimer is believed to have been invented in the Easter USA-there is great debate re by whom & in which Mountainous region-not the mid or far east. The hammered dulcimer did come over from the mid or far east & is an amazing instrument.

02 Nov 05 - 09:15 AM (#1595715)
Subject: RE: my non-lap dulcimer
From: GUEST,leeneia

I like the suggestion of "fretted dulcimer."

Thanks, kat, for suggesting the French site. I will check it out.

Who was it said something about 4 strings? Thought I'd mention that I use only three strings. Having double strings for the melody didn't seem to accomplish anything, and it led to problems because they didn't stay perfectly in tune. So I started using a thumbpick to bring out the melody string.

Since the melody string gets the most work, the extra string they sell you can be used to replace a worn one before the lower strings wear out. (I buy strings separately when I can.)

punkfolkrocker, if you treat your d'er like a guitar, I worry about how long it will last.