*A dulcimer by any other name will sound as sweet!* This article interests me because it is written from the viewpoint of the zither-type instrument called dulcimer, mentioning the Appalachian dulcimer as a footnote. In my part of the world, the American South, the term “dulcimer” is used primarily to refer to the Appalachian, or lap, dulcimer, and the zither-type instrument is always specifically designated “hammer/hammered dulcimer.”
The hammered dulcimer is the older form, but the oldest of all, the dulcimer referred to in the Old Testament, is said to have been an instrument that we know as a plucked psaltery.
The newest form of instrument to be called dulcimer is the Appalachian dulcimer, a folk instrument created by settlers in the Southern Appalachias. It is a three-or-four-stringed instrument with a long fret board. It is tuned modally, and traditionally played in a position in which it is laid across the player’s lap. It is a surprisingly versatile instrument in that it can be played in a simple style that any novice can learn within a few hours or played with a variety of techniques and flourishes to satisfy accomplished musicians.
These instruments are typically handcrafted by individuals who use a variety of woods and decorative motifs, but there are three basic shapes for the body: hourglass, teardrop, and rectangular box. In the South, there are many groups and clubs devoted to the Appalachian dulcimer, and festivals and workshops to celebrate it are becoming ubiquitous. These events often include workshops for a wide variety of instruments (hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery, bowed dulcimer, autoharp, spoons, pennywhistle, and even steel drums), but the Appalachian, or lap, dulcimer is the featured instrument. Check out the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association. This group sponsors a fall festival each year the weekend before Thanksgiving. There is even a magazine devoted to dulcimers: Dulcimer Players’ News.