Hammered Dulcimer?

Joyful Uke

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Does anyone here play hammered dulcimer? I was thinking I might like to learn, but am not sure where to even begin. I am currently playing with some hammers, trying to find a way to hold them that works with my wonky fingers, and get control of the hammers. Looks like there is a lot of variety in hammered dulcimers, so layout could differ from one to another, which makes it harder to find learning material when starting from no knowledge at all.

Any input from anyone?
 
Does anyone here play hammered dulcimer? I was thinking I might like to learn, but am not sure where to even begin. I am currently playing with some hammers, trying to find a way to hold them that works with my wonky fingers, and get control of the hammers. Looks like there is a lot of variety in hammered dulcimers, so layout could differ from one to another, which makes it harder to find learning material when starting from no knowledge at all.

Any input from anyone?

I play hammered dulcimer. It’s a lot of fun, but I will admit it wasn’t the most intuitive instrument for me to learn ... especially coming from the piano and celtic harp, where the notes/strings are in a logical ascending/descending order. On the dulcimer, the notes/strings are grouped together based on different keys (i.e. the Key of C, G, D, etc). Dulcimers do come in different sizes, but the basic layout of the strings remains the same. The main difference is that larger dulcimers just have more notes - additional strings grouped together in additional keys, situated above or below the basic set of strings. Some provide extra solitary notes in a higher octave/pitch, located in what sometimes seem to be random positions on the board. I have what is called a ”12/11” model, which is considered a small or beginner sized dulcimer, but it’s been more than adequate for any of the music I want to play.

I highly recommend you take a look at a decent beginner instruction book to see if any of it makes sense to you. The one linked below is the one I started with (and still refer to). The instructional component of the book is very comprehensive and well written. The songs in the book are designed to help you learn more as you go along. They are written in standard music notation (no tablature), which may make the process more challenging if you don’t already read music.


Obviously the best way to see if you might enjoy playing a dulcimer is to find one (maybe at a nearby store that sells new or used folk instruments), and give it a try. If that’s not possible, check out some of the instructional videos online. Or reach out to local hammered dulcimer players via social media.

Re the hammers...
Lightly grasp each hammer’s handle between your thumb and forefinger(s). When you (lightly) tap a string with one of the hammers, allow the hammer to bounce back up on it’s own. Let gravity do most of the work for you. It will be almost effortless if you keep your fingers, hands and wrists relaxed. I have wonky hands too (weirdly shaped fingers from advancing rheumatoid arthritis), but I find using the hammers on a dulcimer to be the easiest of all the instruments I play.

You will have more questions - what beginner doesn’t? :) I’m here - just holler.
 
Thanks!

I have watched some videos, and oddly enough, the layout makes sense to me - at least in theory, since the proof would be actually playing it. But I at least get the idea of it.

I need to learn to read music, (used to be able to, long ago, but haven't for many years), but think it looks like a fun instrument, so plan on giving it a try. I even cleared away a space to put one. :)

Any thoughts on stands? Sitting? Standing? Adjustable or not?

Thanks for the book recommendation.

I'm excited about a new project. Meanwhile, off to enjoy my ukulele.
 
My introduction to hammered dulcimer was in 1968 or 69 near Kilkenny, Ireland. I was picked up by a fine old gentleman named Andy Dowling (pronounced Doolin). He asked me, "Are you goin' to the Fleadh?"
I said that I had no idea what a Fleadh was and he explained that a Fleadh Cheol was a music festival/competition and it was being held in New Ross that year. I said, "That's exactly where I'm going."
On the way to New Ross he asked me if I'd ever heard of a dulcimer. I told him that I had records of Jean Ritchie and Richard Farina playing the dulcimer, thinking he was talking about a mountain dulcimer. When we stopped for lunch I got quite a surprise when he pulled out his hammered dulcimer. I'd never seen one before. We spent the day together and he told me many stories and played me many tunes. He said that he was in a movie, filmed in Kilkenny, called LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS that had Christopher Plummer in it. I've seen this movie 3 or 4 times just to see the last scene where he plays the hammered dulcimer with the townfolks dancing around him in a huge circle.
I had the photo that I took of him in a New Ross parking lot on my piano for many years but it now sits beside my computer in the room where I play/keep my musical instruments.
Andy died in 1991 at the age of 92.
Andy Dowling.jpg
ANDY DOWLING
Some time in the eighties I was hiring people for Cobourg's Waterfront Festival when I heard about an Orono musician who played the hammered dulcimer (and many other instruments). I hired him to play the festival and he later recruited a bunch of musicians who had played at the festival, including Maggie and me to form a group called The Piper's Hut. Bernie lost his battle with cancer in1995.
bernie martin.jpg
BERNIE MARTIN
 
My wife Maggie and Bernie were great friends and she took up the hammered dulcimer after he died. Here we're playing a show at the Gore's Landing Hall around the turn of the century.
maggie&jim at Gore's landinghall.jpg

I have taught myself some basic chordal back-up playing, but have never put much time into learning the dulcimer as a lead instrument.
 
What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing that.
I might see if I can find that movie somewhere to watch.
 
Thanks!

I have watched some videos, and oddly enough, the layout makes sense to me - at least in theory, since the proof would be actually playing it. But I at least get the idea of it.

I need to learn to read music, (used to be able to, long ago, but haven't for many years), but think it looks like a fun instrument, so plan on giving it a try. I even cleared away a space to put one. :)

Any thoughts on stands? Sitting? Standing? Adjustable or not?

Thanks for the book recommendation.

I'm excited about a new project. Meanwhile, off to enjoy my ukulele.

I have this stand, which is adjustable in height and quite sturdy. I use it primarily for playing while seated.


There are a number of other stand designs available. As long as you get one that is adjustable, any of them should work fine. (A fixed-height stand could be an uncomfortable ergonomic experience, unless it happens to be just the right height for you.)

I also have this simple stand, for those times when I want to stand and play the dulcimer on a table or countertop.

 
I have this stand, which is adjustable in height and quite sturdy. I use it primarily for playing while seated.


There are a number of other stand designs available. As long as you get one that is adjustable, any of them should work fine. (A fixed-height stand could be an uncomfortable ergonomic experience, unless it happens to be just the right height for you.)

I also have this simple stand, for those times when I want to stand and play the dulcimer on a table or countertop.

Thanks! I'll look at your suggestions.
I was concerned that it could be very uncomfortable if something isn't the correct height/angle for me. The desk/computer I use at work is a horrible set up for me, so I'm constantly reminded the ergonomics are important - though non-existent at work. ugh.
 
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