Lap Dulcimer players To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=8351
33 messages

Lap Dulcimer players

31 Dec 98 - 06:33 AM (#51505)
Subject: Lap Dulcimer players
From:

I just recently built a tear drop version Apallachian lap dulcimer and am having a great time learning new material. I play by ear, having tried years ago to learn to read music with no great sucess. Any one else into playing the dulcimer?


31 Dec 98 - 06:38 AM (#51506)
Subject: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Banjeray

Previous dulcimer message had no name attached...sorry


31 Dec 98 - 07:49 AM (#51509)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Bob Schwarer

The child bride bought me one for Christmas. Found it somewhere around Helen, GA. Now comes the fun.

Bob S.


31 Dec 98 - 12:14 PM (#51541)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Bill D

sure...I have one I don't play a lot, but it is fun for some songs..I tune it Ionian mode and play some chords, nothing fancy...it is easy to pick out tunes quickly...you'll soon know if it is gonna be serious.Have fun!

(Mine was made by Keith Young, who uses the traditional friction-peg head, with sliding fine tuners at the tail)


31 Dec 98 - 12:22 PM (#51544)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Jon W.

I built one (from plywood) a couple of years ago for my then-7-year-old daughter for Christmas. She never appreciated it fully but I've enjoyed it a little. One of these days I'll build a more serious one. I was reading the other day about the Pythagorean scale of perfect intervals which was used before the compromise of even tempered scales came in. Lap dulcimer seems the ideal instrument to experiment with the Pythagorean scale.


31 Dec 98 - 01:48 PM (#51557)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Charlie Baum

The lap dulcimer gets you thinking in modes. One of the reasons I've had a hard time learning to play it well is that I get so caught up with the dulcimer as a musical theory machine, that the theory and intellectualizing take over, and my fingers never get to feel how to play it. For instance, there is only ONE accidental on my duclimer (the 6-1/2 fret), but it's ALWAYS in the right place, no matter what key or mode I'm in. Why? Is that a zen koan or what?


31 Dec 98 - 03:52 PM (#51572)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Carolyn

Since the subject is dulcimers, maybe you all could give me a little guidance. I am very musically untalented, but would like to buy a dulcimer and give it a try. Which kind is the easiest to learn to play, and easiest to sing along with? I appreciate your input.


31 Dec 98 - 05:14 PM (#51577)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Jon W.

There are two basically unrelated instruments both called dulcimer: Hammered dulcimer which has a whole lot of strings stretched across a trapezoidal soundboard, which you hit with hammers; and lap/mountain/Appalachian dulcimer which has (usually) four strings (2 drone, 2 melody, with the melody strings strung in a single "course"). One thing I've read about the hammered dulcimer (never having tried it yet) is that it's as easy to play as it is to type with two fingers. Well I can't type very well or very fast with just two fingers. The lap dulcimer seems a lot simpler to me. The fretboard is arranged in a diatonic scale like the white keys of a piano. (Some advanced ones throw in a couple more frets so you can play in two different keys without retuning.) But like all other instruments, there are relatively simple and complex methods of playing each of these. I suspect the lap dulcimer may be easier to accompany singing but don't take my word for it.


31 Dec 98 - 05:58 PM (#51580)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Bill D

the lap dulcimer is WAY easier to 'care for' and tune, for the beginner...there are several ways to tune one. I think the easiest is to see if there is a maker in your area who can both let you try them and give beginning lessons..(I know, some areas are easier than others to find these things..)


31 Dec 98 - 09:23 PM (#51603)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: dulcimer

I tune to DAD, sometimes CGC, and sometimes DGD. There are other tunings that I have experimented with from time to time. The instrument lends itself to playing in many keys (with or without a capo) and may styles--flat-picking, finger-pickeing, using a noter on the melody string or four note chording, strumming fast or slow. One can play just about any kind of music--just takes a little practice. Many dulcimer players don't read music and rely upon tabbed music which gives the frets to be played. I don't know where the orginal poster lives, but Sweet Music Digest is a place to get information about teachers and players from all over. During the spring-summer-fall months, there are festivals and meetings about every weekend. The SMD can be joined at dulcimer-list-digest@clearspring.com.


01 Jan 99 - 07:36 PM (#51689)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: KickyC

Carolyn, I have been playing the Appalachain dulcimer since my husband bought me one three and a half years ago for our 25th anniversary and it is absolutely my favorite instrument of all to play. You might find someone in your area that builds dulcimers, but unless you know for sure that that person is an accomplished builder I wouldn't reccomend it. Many people build dulcimers, but many of those dulcimers are unplayable. If the builder doesn't know what they are doing, the instrument can look beautiful, but not ever be able to hold a tune. I have two McSpaddens which are from Mountain View, Arkansas that are just wonderful and resonably priced for a beginner I think. They run around $250 with a case, but they are good quality and you know what you are getting. When I bought the first one, I knew absolutely nothing and later found out that I had really lucked out. There are many other excellent builders, but some tend to be more expensive. I have the Sweetheart model. One was made by McSpadden and the other my husband made from one of their kits. Last summer we went to Boone, North Carolina for the Dulcimer Worshop where I spent a week in classes and my husband spent a week building a dulcimer with Bob Mize. That is one sweet little dulcimer! I just love to play the dulcimer. Mine all have four strings. When I went to Boone, a fellow student said, "How do you play all four of those strings?" I answered, "I never had a teacher, so I didn't know any better when I learned how to play." I started then using just three strings and I really think the sound quality is much clearer and better. I would use four for backups with singing, but I prefer three for playing melodies. Some dulcimers come without that 6 1/2 fret, but I would highly recommend getting one with it. You won't be sorry. For learning to play I would also recommend Larkin Bryant's bood and tape. Any music store should be able to order it for you. I think it is the easiest I have seen to start with. I can't give you the exact name because I loaned it to someone. I could go on forever, but I think one of the best things that ever happened to me was learning to play the dulcimer. The sound is so sweet and it is so relaxing. It really is a stress reliever for me. My husband will also sit and listen to me play for as long as I want. I often put him to sleep. That doesn't happen with my banjo. Give it a try. You really won't be sorry. If you have any other questions, you can e-mail me anytime at KickyC@aol.com

Chris


02 Jan 99 - 11:00 AM (#51751)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Sierra Willy

I have been playing the mountain or lap dulcimer inconsistently for the past couple decades. I've had several built for me and incurred the rath of the gods of appalachia for allowing an earnest classical instrument builder to create one unplayable yet gorgeous piece of furniture. My most recent (11 years) is a beautifully playable model by Berg Musical Instruments (of Iowa I think). It is walnut, cherry, maple, rosewood, and sitka spruce. This one has two exceptional features which I have never seen before or since: a scalloped fret board which has depressions between frets to allow for a cleaner fretted sound and a grand range of vibrato, it also has a resonator back to allow the sound to reverberate and project more than instruments muted by having the motion of their backs dampened by being on the lap. I suggest something inexpensive for a beginner. Best case scenario would be to attend a folk festival, rendezvous, music festival etc. where you could meet players, see models, visit vendors, try a few and see what you like. Pick up a tape and a book, good luck, have fun. Happy new year! If anyone wants the last known Berg Instruments address contact me at: blsierra@jps.net


02 Jan 99 - 05:38 PM (#51798)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: sharon

Being a player of both mountain dulcimer and hammered dulcimer, I must say, they are related in name only. Now the mountain dulcimer is a wonderful instrument. But the hammered is, by far, my favorite. As for it being as easy to play as typing with two fingers. Yes, to play a simple basic melody, it is that easy. But there is so much more potential... Listen to CDs by Russell Cook, John McCutcheon, Maggie Sansone and others. I've taken lessons on it for 5 years, but have SO much more to learn. Just playing it can transport one to another plane..... I can forget the rest of the world exists. Between the two, I would highly promote the hammered dulcimer.


02 Jan 99 - 07:12 PM (#51810)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Paul Jay

A friend of mine, Bob Hutchinson or "Hutch" as everyone calls him, Makes some of the most beautiful PLAYABLE dulcimers I have ever seen. His web site is: http://www.jolaf.com/nocodul/


03 Jan 99 - 02:34 PM (#51848)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Carolyn

Thank you all so much. I now have a place to start... books to read, tapes to listen to, web sites to visit, etc, and a quest to begin! I'm really looking forward to this. I appreciate all the information you have given me. Happy musical New Year!

Carolyn


05 Jan 99 - 08:42 PM (#52157)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Ev

Carolyn...I highly recommend the lap dulcimer. I am a rather musically challenged person and was attracted to the dulcimer by a book by Jean Ritchie who says the way to tune a dulcimer is tune the bass string to where it sounds good, press on the 4th fret of the base string and tune the rest to that string and the "just play the darned thing!" Or as her Dad told her when she asked him to teach her the dulcimer "Here, you can either play it or you can't" You know she sure learnd to play.

I mean...how unpretentious and un-intimidating can you get. Well, I figured I could do that..got a dulcimer a year ago, ignored all of the "musical snobs" who said all kinds of complicated stuff when I asked a simple question, and you know I have discovered an instrument that has become my best friend.


06 Jan 99 - 01:14 PM (#52297)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: catspaw49

I wanted to post on here as a luthier...I build the things and I'll tell you that you just got some great advice from Ev!!! I went to Berea College in Kentucky where Appalachian Dulcimer is almost part of the curriculum. For the past 30 years I've built them, but 7 years ago I left my job to become a full time luthier and househusband. It's true that there are a lot of bad dulcimers out there and a lot of great ones too. Ask any maker and I think they will honestly tell you they've built both!!! I also build Hammered Dulcimers and Autoharps along with some musical folk toys like stick dulcimers. The Hammered Dulcimer is a truly beautiful instrument and although not hard to play, takes a lot more musical "time" than the Appalachian Dulcimer. I'm never sure why a certain instrument plays so much better than the one before or after it, especially when they are all virtually identical. Call up Martin guitars and they'll tell you they have no idea either...and it happens to them too. What you can avoid are the true dogs. No reputable luthier will let a dog out of their shop even though they make damn expensive kindling! Looks can be deceiving. Try the sound...Sound good to you? Got a friend who plays?

What I really want to say here is, don't get wrapped up in the Zen type stuff that is so prevalent around all instruments, but especially dulcimers. Even guitars have less. The true appeal of an Appalachian dulcimer is it's simplicity. Get some recordings and books by and about John Jacob Niles and Jean Ritchie. The instrument can be played in some very complex ways, but it never sounds better than when it accompanies Jean. Her songs all reflect her mountain roots and the people she's known. Her style is simple and traditional and reflects the true character of the instrument.

Finally, say you find several instruments that all sound pretty good to you. Dulcimers come in lots of shapes and sizes...FIND ONE THAT LAYS ON YOUR LAP COMFORTABLY!!! Any instrument that is uncomfortable or awkward will be less enjoyable, especially to a beginner. Since 99% of all players still set them on their laps, be sure it fits yours. Also, tuning pegs can be beautiful, but machine heads stay in tune better and are easier to tune if you're just starting out. Honestly, there is so much "Zen" surrounding woods, shapes, soundholes, fretboards, pegheads, etc., you'd think some of these people attended "Our Lady of the Holy Dulcimer" church! Much truth and much myth encompasses the instrument. Keep it simple and you'll find it easy...and an easily taken along companion. catspaw49


07 Jan 99 - 02:10 PM (#52578)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Nora

I went into a music store a few years ago in Minneapolis to buy an autoharp. I was nervous about tuning all those strings, so I looked at dulcimers and I bought one whose sound I liked and that felt good on my lap. I love playing it because it is simple to pick out melodies and the drone accompaniment is quite soothing to me. I usually tune it DADD or DAAA, but sometimes I get wild and go for the more complicated and minor modes, chord changes, and fingerpicking. A while back the nut broke and I had to remove one string. I haven't bothered to fix it and it sounds just fine. The traditional playing styles (a la Jean Ritchie, etc.) are fairly simple and easy to learn, but it is possible to get pretty complicated with alternate tunings and fingerpicking techniques. I find myself in North Carolina now, and I find plenty of folks who play and can help me out when I'm stuck.

It's sometimes frustrating to keep up with other musicians because key changes often require retuning, and the drone sound (if you're not keeping up with the chord changes) irritates a lot of other musicians. But I have no other instrument that is so much fun to sit alone and sing along with.

Enjoy!


07 Jan 99 - 03:03 PM (#52582)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Animaterra

Whether lap or hammered, what is your choice/ preference for strings? I have old instruments, and the hammered snapped some strings when I tried tuning it by the book for the first time! Do I just go to the hardware store and get the same gauge brass wire, or what?


08 Jan 99 - 12:02 AM (#52709)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: catspaw49

Several string makers sell Appalachian Dulcimer string sets and I've never run across one that didn't work out just fine. I know that GHS Has a real nice set for about two and a half bucks. If you're buying singles, loop end in .012,.012,.012 or .016, and .020 to .024.

Hammered...Well it gets a little more complex because of saddle angles, rail height, downbearing and blah,blah,blah. You can also get into loop end strings and all that including wound basses, etc. Cutting right to the chase as is my general anti-Zen philosophy...I string my basic 12/11 model with #5 thru #10 stainless piano wire. If you're only replacing one course, come as close as you can to what you've got. Sounds like you've got an old girl and you could help her out by doing a couple of things. Replace the rail {bridge} caps with Delrin and also the saddle rail {side bridge}. You can use #8 Stainless piano wire to string the whole thing if you want and you'll probably be real happy. If you're dulcimer is large, use 9 and if smaller than most, use 6 or 7. The Delrin caps are friction free, eliminating a lot of problems in breaking strings, tuning, and staying in tune. It's available in black and white.

People ask me a lot about difficulty in stringing. I always reply, "Not hard at all! All of my dulcimers are lovingly strung by my wonderful wife...'cause if I had to do it, I'd have built my last one many years ago." catspaw49

P.S. I don't know for which instrument the following was written regarding wood, but it is most appropriate for Hammered Dulcimer:

I was alive in the forest. I was cut by the cruel axe. In life, I was silent. In death, I sweetly sing.


08 Jan 99 - 11:18 AM (#52773)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Jon W.

A few weeks ago I saw a violin for auction on eBay.com which had that saying on the back, but in Latin.


08 Jan 99 - 12:19 PM (#52790)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Animaterra

Thanks, catspaw, but what are Delrin caps and where does one get one? The hardware store? The esoteric mulsic shop 100 miles away? The planet Delrin?


08 Jan 99 - 12:34 PM (#52793)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: catspaw49

Sorry...I'm an idiot. Delrin is a plastic, harder than steel, and as you actually guessed it is from the planet Delrin. Your best source for buying in "non-mass" quantities is from Jean's Dulcimer Shop in Cosby, TN. They will also sell piano wire in non-mass quantities or were the last I knew. I have to fumble around for the address, but I'll post it as soon as I find it. Also Elderly Instruments may have but I haven't really checked...but I will. I'll get back to you...Once again, sorry, but sometimes my mind seems to have taken a hiatus. catspaw49


08 Jan 99 - 09:02 PM (#52909)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: catspaw49

Well I'm sorry again but as I was writing this our power went out {12"snow, sleet, now freezing rain and going back to snow tonight with about 4-8" coming. I'm glad my computer didn't get zapped!

The address you need is: Jeananlee Schilling, 267 S. Hwy. 32, Cosby, TN., 37722 PH:423-487-5543

They are a good source for smaller amounts of Delrin, piano wire and the like.catspaw49


09 Jan 99 - 09:50 PM (#53094)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: KickyC

One thing I haven't seen mentioned when buying a dulcimer, and it is important, is the length of the fretboard. I was lucky and bought a smaller dulcimer the first time around. My hands are small, and although I have a good reach because of my piano teacher, I longer fretboard on the dulcimer would be much harder for me to play, and there are already some chords that are really a stretch. If you can reach from fret #4 to fret #1 semi-easily you should be in good shape.

Chris


07 Feb 99 - 09:59 PM (#57587)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Cuilionn

Can ony o' ye dulcimer-literate folk assist a bewilderit beginner aboot strings? I hae a mountain dulcimer, fowr strings, an' after breakin' th' original strings ane by ane, I put on th' single extra set that cam wi' ma dulcimer in a wee unlabelled plastic bag. I wis daein' grait, figgerin' oot sangs richt an' left, an' then, jist afore gain' flyin' aff tae play music wi' oot-o'-state friends, I startit hearin' a wee rattlin' sound.

I figgerit it wis time tae get new strings agin, sae I trundled aff an' purchased an official "dulcimer" string packet listin' its contents as "M-640 4-string Nickel Alloy Wound" an' statin' th' string sizes as .012, .012, .012, an' .022. Och, noo ev'ry single string rattled sumpit dreadfu'. I went back an' boucht bigger strings, twice. I think I ended up wi' .014, .014, .014, an' .026, an' th' rattle wis maistly gane, but nae completely. An' th' hale sound o' th' thing is "aff" a bit, an' I can hardly stand tae play wi' it.

This seems like sic a simple instrument, an' I feel like a richt eejit because I cannae fix sumpit sae basic as a rattlin' string. I tried wedgin' wee snippets o' plastic intae th' grooves in th' nut, guessin' that micht haud th' strings in mair tichtly...tried gettin' th' strings tae rest sae high in th' nut that they didnae come in contact wi' th' top fret...tae nae avail. I'm defeatit an' disjaskit an' dulcimer-impaired. Can some wise dulcimerist tell me what tae dae?!?

Muckle obliged,

--Cuilionn


07 Feb 99 - 10:04 PM (#57589)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Cuilionn

Can ony o' ye dulcimer-literate folk assist a bewilderit beginner aboot strings? I hae a mountain dulcimer, fowr strings, an' after breakin' th' original strings ane by ane, I put on th' single extra set that cam wi' ma dulcimer in a wee unlabelled plastic bag. I wis daein' grait, figgerin' oot sangs richt an' left, an' then, jist afore gain' flyin' aff tae play music wi' oot-o'-state friends, I startit hearin' a wee rattlin' sound.

I figgerit it wis time tae get new strings agin, sae I trundled aff an' purchased an official "dulcimer" string packet listin' its contents as "M-640 4-string Nickel Alloy Wound" an' statin' th' string sizes as .012, .012, .012, an' .022. Och, noo ev'ry single string rattled sumpit dreadfu'. I went back an' boucht bigger strings, twice. I think I ended up wi' .014, .014, .014, an' .026, an' th' rattle wis maistly gane, but nae completely. An' th' hale sound o' th' thing is "aff" a bit, an' I can hardly stand tae play wi' it.

This seems like sic a simple instrument, an' I feel like a richt eejit because I cannae fix sumpit sae basic as a rattlin' string. I tried wedgin' wee snippets o' plastic intae th' grooves in th' nut, guessin' that micht haud th' strings in mair tichtly...tried gettin' th' strings tae rest sae high in th' nut that they didnae come in contact wi' th' top fret...tae nae avail. I'm defeatit an' disjaskit an' dulcimer-impaired. Can some wise dulcimerist tell me what tae dae?!?

Muckle obliged,

--Cuilionn


08 Feb 99 - 10:34 AM (#57637)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Bert

Cuilionn,

Speaking as an engineer and not a dulcimer player; have you tried raising the bridge just a tad?

Bert.


08 Feb 99 - 11:14 AM (#57639)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: catspaw49

Jesus Cuilionn, I just love readin' your stuff...You could write a treatise on hair follicle damage due to improper cortex nutrition and I'd enjoy it. And Bert...congrats to the engineer in you, a feature I've often found a bit disconcerting in others. Did you happen to go on reading in that previous thread about the differences in lutes vs. zithers? If you did, the engineer part should see it clearly, as you have.

Cuilionn...An Appalachian Dulcimer is a long zither, and a zither has strings running across two bridges for the entire length of the resonant body. Therefore what we have come to refer to as a "nut" is another bridge and within certain parameters, BOTH BRIDGES should be the SAME HEIGHT. It's not a guitar, mandolin, or banjo which are lutes; it's a zither. Also, be very careful when notching for proper matching of string depth and alignment on both bridges. Oughta' fix your problem!!! I think all the harp/lyre/bow/zither/lute junk was in the thread on "Playing Strange Instruments" about a week ago.

catspaw


08 Feb 99 - 09:07 PM (#57726)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Cuilionn

Och, I'm sae embarrassit...didnae mean tae double-post! Catspaw an' Bert, I'm muckle obligit tae ye for yir suggestions, an' as sune as I allow masel' tae tak a break from resairchin' this paper ("Th' Kirk as a force of cultural annihilation in th' Scottish Hielands, 1550-1750") I'll sit doon wi' ma puir wee dulcimer an' see if a ministair can FIX bridges insteid o' burnin' 'em. I'll keep ye postit...

--Cuilionn

P.S. Catspaw, I wis richt tickled by yir comment aboot ma wrichtin'. 'Tis often I wonder if 'tis mair annoyin' than usefu', but since I tend tae THINK in Braid Scots, 'tis hard nae tae WRICHT it as weel!


09 Feb 99 - 09:25 AM (#57801)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Bert

Catspaw,
You're right, they are both bridges, I should have known that, I have a santoor at home. But as a guitar player I automatically fell into using lute terminology.

Anyway Cuilion you will need to raise the one that's near the end that you strum (or pick or pluck).

Bert.


09 Feb 99 - 11:57 AM (#57826)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Jon W.

Another thing on the dulcimer bridge slots is to be sure they slope down away from the vibrating portion of the string, so the string is stopped precisely at the edge of the bridge and not somewhere within the length of the slot or at the other side. Often a rattle is caused by a string vibrating in the slot itself. If your bridge fell off when the strings broke the first time, you might have reversed it so the slots slope down towards the vibrating part of the string - that could cause this problem for sure.


10 Feb 99 - 02:00 AM (#57939)
Subject: RE: Lap Dulcimer players
From: Frank in NJ

Aye bein' sweet a sound arizes, from such a luvly box surpizes, chinas togeffer in a pair, can shape an share a dainty air, weffer quill or finger pyx, enchant yer will wiv fiddle styx.