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How to Play the Mountain Dulcimer


How to Play the Dulcimer

Would you like to play a stringed instrument? Do you think you are too old or too young to learn? Would you like to play something unusual and portable? Then the mountain dulcimer (also known as the Appalachian dulcimer) may be the instrument for you.

Where Is the Dulcimer From?

The mountain dulcimer is the only musical instrument native to the United States. It was first developed in the Appalachian area of the US.

It is a wooden instrument that is played on your lap. It comes in various shapes, with the hourglass and teardrop shapes being some of the most popular. The modern dulcimer usually has a series of 20 frets down the length of it and three strings which are often tuned D - A - D.

This means the top and bottom strings are tuned to D and the middle string to A. The bottom or melody strings are often doubled, but both are tuned the same and fretted when played.


The Dulcimer Is Easy to Play

The dulcimer has only three strings, so it is easier to play than a guitar, banjo, mandolin, or fiddle. It is also not as hard to push the strings down as it is on a guitar. Playing the dulcimer involves using your left hand to push down the strings at the appropriate frets while using a pick to strum or individually pick each string.

You do not have to be able to read music to play the dulcimer. Some people can pick out tunes by ear. Sheet music and books are available that use a special notation (tablature) that indicates the correct frets that should be used when playing a specific song.

Simple songs can be played by fretting just the first string and strumming across the instrument. As you become more advanced, you can learn how to play with chords, which entails fretting more than one string at a time.

I learned to play the dulcimer as an adult, and it was much easier than I thought that it would be. I have also taught kids as young as 6 to play simple songs on it.

  • Here's a link to a good place to get more information on dulcimers and free tablatures.
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I have really enjoyed playing an instrument that not many people are familiar with. Dulcimers have such a pleasant sound and can be played slowly and quietly or at a very fast, toe-tapping speed.

Get a dulcimer and start learning today; you won't regret it.


peleyadel on December 01, 2013:

The Mountain Dulcimer is the official Kentucky State Musical Instrument (just like the Cardinal is the State Bird). I make these dulcimers right here inCrestwood, Kentucky. Please help support my passion and efforts by sharing in this campaign. You may not be a musician, or need one of these, but you can contribute to the culture.

Tiffany Delite from Wichita, KS on March 03, 2013:

thank you for this article. i hate to sound ignorant, but i don't think i have ever seen or heard of this instrument before. thanks again for sharing...blessings!

sasha on May 09, 2011:

I hope to get one soon and start playing sounds as easy as playing the Ukulele!

Multiman on February 03, 2011:

Good basics!

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