The hammered dulcimer has a wondrous, magical sound... a full, rich tone with glorious sustain. Once it gets into your soul, nothing else quite comes close. The simplest melody can take on an intimacy and a fullness far beyond the actual notes being played.
I first heard the wondrous sound of the hammered dulcimer at a county fair in Eastern Tennessee at the age of thirteen. I remember thinking how fascinating the instrument was, yet how incredibly difficult it must be to play. The performer was John McCutcheon, one of the finest hammered dulcimer players in the country. I didn't give it another thought for many, many years. In the meantime, I learned to play the 5-string banjo and then the guitar. I had a great time with those instruments for about twenty years, and for several years was heavily into contemporary fingerstyle guitar. I found myself unsuccessfully trying to reproduce the brilliant sustained tones that were in vogue on fingerstyle guitar albums by artists such as Alex DeGrassi and Ed Gerhard. Then one day I was listening to a cassette tape of amateur acoustic guitar and stumbled upon a duet played by acoustic guitar and hammered dulcimer. I recalled my earlier exposure to the instrument many years before, and I realized that the hammered dulcimer offered the brilliant sustained tones -- the "wall of sound" effect -- that I had unsuccessfully been striving for on guitar all along. Within a month I had purchased my first hammered dulcimer -- a Master Works 15/14 model -- along with a John McCutcheon instructional videotape, and had begun teaching myself to play. That was over ten years ago, and I've been hooked ever since!
You can listen to mp3 files of my hammered dulcimer playing by visiting:
Dulcimer MP3 Files
You can also SEE (and hear) some of my hammered dulcimer playing by visiting: Hammered Dulcimer Video Samples
A hammered dulcimer is a trapezoidal-shaped instrument with a whole bunch of steel strings that are struck with wooden "hammers" that you hold loosely between your thumb and index finger. Not clear? First let's take a look at a picture of a Master Works 16/15c. This picture is from the Master Works website (used with permission):
Master Works 16/15c Hammered Dulcimer
Notice that there are two main bridges: a bass bridge (on the right) and a treble bridge (on the left). The bass strings are struck just to the left of the bass bridge, while the treble strings can be struck either to the right or the left of the treble bridge. There are 16 pairs of treble strings and 15 pairs of bass strings (hence it is known as a 16/15 instrument -- hammered dulcimers come in different sizes such as 12/11, 15/14, 16/15 or even higher). Most hammered dulcimers have a "stacked diatonic" tuning arrangement, which means that you'll have the notes from the major scale (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) from each of several keys, depending on the size of the instrument. This tuning arrangement is what makes the hammered dulcimer so deceptively easy to learn and fun to play. Because of the ingenious tuning arrangement, you will also be able to play in minor keys. Some hammered dulcimers, including the one shown above, are known as "chromatic," which means that small satellite bridges have been added here and there to provide extra notes that would otherwise be missing -- these are notes that are not typically needed for most folk or celtic music but would come in handy for jazz or post-renaissance classical music. The chromatic hammered dulcimers are usually at the high-end of the price range. Here is a nice picture of several Master Works hammered dulcimers -- also borrowed from their web site (with permission), so please click on the link to visit them and buy a hammered dulcimer (or at least some hammered dulcimer CDs):
Click on the picture to visit the Master Works
(Wood 'N Strings) web site
Hammered Dulcimer CDs The hammered dulcimer is a hauntingly beautiful instrument. Even if you don't want to play the thing, you might be interested in getting some CDs to listen to. Follow this link for a list of my favorite hammered dulcimer recordings, and information about where to obtain them.
Hammered Dulcimer Instruction Books and Videos Believe it or not,
there's a bunch of instructional material available for the hammered dulcimer. Follow this link to find out what's available.
Other hammered dulcimer info on the web Other folks have done a fine job of putting hammered dulcimer web sites together. Follow this link for an index of what I've found so far.
So you want to start playing the hammered dulcimer? What stuff do you need to get? Follow this link for a brief discussion based on my own experience.
You can contact me at: Bill@HammerDulcimerMusic.com