Dulcimer: How to Play
The dulcimer, also known as the mountain dulcimer or Appalachian dulcimer, is a string instrument that is popular in folk music. Its unique sound and simple design make it an accessible instrument for beginners, yet it offers ample room for exploration and creativity for more advanced players. In this article, we will explore the basics of how to play the dulcimer, including its tuning, playing techniques, and some frequently asked questions.
Tuning the Dulcimer:
The dulcimer is typically tuned to a diatonic scale, most commonly D-A-D or D-A-A. To tune the dulcimer, start by tuning the middle string to the desired pitch, usually D. Then, tune the melody string (the one closest to you) to match the pitch of the middle string. Finally, tune the bass string (the one farthest from you) to match the middle string as well. You can use a tuner or reference pitches from another instrument to achieve accurate tuning.
Strumming: To play the dulcimer, you can use a pick or your fingers to strum the strings. Place your picking hand close to the strings and brush across them gently. Experiment with different angles and pressures to find the sound you prefer.
Fretting: The dulcimer is fretted, meaning you can press down on the strings against the frets to change the pitch. Use your left hand to press the strings down against the frets as you strum or pluck them with your right hand. Start by playing single notes and gradually progress to playing chords and melodies.
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: These techniques involve playing notes without picking the string again. To perform a hammer-on, pluck a string and then quickly press down on a higher fret with your left hand finger. The note will sound without re-picking the string. A pull-off is the opposite, where you pluck a string and then quickly release your left hand finger from a higher fret, allowing the lower note to sound.
Vibrato: Vibrato is a technique used to add expression and character to your playing. It involves slightly bending the string back and forth with your left hand finger while the note is ringing. Practice by starting with a slow vibrato and gradually increasing the speed and intensity.
14 FAQs about Playing the Dulcimer:
1. Do I need any prior musical experience to play the dulcimer?
No, the dulcimer is a great instrument for beginners with no prior musical experience.
2. Can I use a guitar pick to play the dulcimer?
Yes, a guitar pick can be used on the dulcimer, but many players prefer using their fingers for a softer sound.
3. Can I play chords on the dulcimer?
Yes, the dulcimer allows for playing chords, which can be achieved by pressing multiple strings down at the same time.
4. Can I play melodies on the dulcimer?
Absolutely! The dulcimer is capable of playing beautiful melodies, either by plucking individual strings or using hammer-ons and pull-offs.
5. How long does it take to learn to play the dulcimer?
The learning curve varies from person to person, but with regular practice, you can start playing simple tunes within a few weeks.
6. Do I need to read sheet music to play the dulcimer?
While reading sheet music can be beneficial, it is not essential to play the dulcimer. Many players learn by ear or using tablature.
7. Can I play different genres of music on the dulcimer?
Yes, the dulcimer is versatile and can be used to play various genres, including folk, blues, and even contemporary music.
8. How often should I change the strings on my dulcimer?
It depends on how frequently you play, but on average, it is recommended to change the strings every six to twelve months.
9. Can I amplify the sound of my dulcimer?
Yes, you can use a pickup or a microphone to amplify the sound of your dulcimer for performances or recording.
10. How do I care for my dulcimer?
Keep your dulcimer in a dry environment and wipe it down after each use. Avoid extreme temperatures and direct sunlight.
11. Can I play the dulcimer standing up?
Yes, the dulcimer can be played while standing or sitting, depending on your preference.
12. Can children play the dulcimer?
Absolutely! The dulcimer is a great instrument for children to learn due to its approachable size and ease of playing.
13. Can I play with others in a dulcimer ensemble or band?
Yes, the dulcimer is often played in ensembles, bands, or jam sessions, allowing for a rich musical experience.
14. Can I improvise and create my own music on the dulcimer?
Definitely! The dulcimer offers ample room for creativity and improvisation, allowing you to explore your musical ideas freely.
In conclusion, the dulcimer is a captivating and accessible instrument for both beginners and experienced musicians. With its unique sound and versatile playing techniques, it offers endless possibilities for creativity and expression. Whether you’re strumming chords or playing intricate melodies, the dulcimer is sure to bring joy and satisfaction to your musical journey.