Created on April 9th and 10th 2002
Updated on December 7, 2005


T.K. O'Brien's Dulcimers
A selection of Dulcimers built by
T.K. O'Brien of Waynesville, NC

The dulcimer (which means "sweet music") is an old musical instrument that is called by many names: Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, or Kentucky dulcimer. Local variants on the name are: hog fiddle, music box, harmony box, dulcymore, and delcumer. It is basically a fretted zither traditional to the southern Appalachian mountains. It consists of a narrow fretboard attached to a soundbox underneath. It usually has 3 to 5 strings. The common arrangement is 4 strings with the first two doubled providing the melody, and the remaining two being drone strings. It can be fingered like a guitar, but the traditional method is by using a "noter" on the melody string(s). A noter is a short wooden dowel used to slide up and down the fretboard to provide the melody. A pick is used to strum the strings, but fingers may also be used. The melody string(s) is fretted like the white keys on a piano (a diatonic scale). In other words, it is a modal instrument, not chromatic. It is usually tuned DAA or DAD. The A string in the DAA tuning is used as the melody string while the other A string and the D string are the drones. It is popular today to play the dulcimer with the fingers, thus providing harmonies and an increased variety in opposed to a drone.
The dulcimer is believed to have been derived from the Swedish hummel, the German scheitholt, the Norwegian langeleik, and the French epinettes des vosges. It arrived in the United States, in one or more of these forms, and developed in the Shenandoah River Valley of southwestern Pennsylvania and western Virginia. The 1800s saw its arrival in the southern Appalachians, where, as a result of its simple manufacture and easiness of play, became a mainstay in the musical traditions of the mountain peoples of that area.
It remained a relatively unknown instrument, outside of the deep pockets of mountain isolation, until the 1940s when Jean Ritchie began playing it at folk music festivals. She also wrote the first major instruction and repetoire book for the dulcimer, which was published in 1963, and remains today the model for subsequent teaching material. Many folk musicians today use the dulcimer in their music, and it may surprise you to know that Cyndi Lauper composed many of her songs on the dulcimer (including Time After Time), and still performs with it in concert. She was recently seen on the Today Show (October 20, 2002) performing with the dulcimer.
I hope you enjoy learning about the dulcimer from this page. If you get a chance, get ahold of one and pick out a tune. You'll see how easy it is to play, and I think you'll want to take one home.
Be sure and thoroughly explore the sites on this page. You'll find an excellent history, as well as search bases for dulcimer clubs around the country, multiple events going on all over the U.S. featuring the dulcimer and other folk instruments, and much more information about the details of the dulcimer's qualities, how to play one, and even sound samples. Have fun.

(If you are from my part of the country, Western North Carolina,
a good group to join is the Pick and Play Dulcimer Group in Sylva, NC Click Here to see their website)



  Jenny Wiley Dulcimers:  Kits and Completed dulcimers from Kentucky.

Folk Of The Wood

Gila Mountain Dulcimers (A very informative site from New Mexico)
This site has all kinds of information about dulcimers, including a listing of Dulcimer
Clubs around the country. Explore the whole's worth it.

Owl Mountain Music's Dulcimer Builders Links (Excellent source for dulcimer builders sites)
Craggy Mountain Music (Dulcimer builder T.K. O'Brien's site...the man who made my dulcimer.)
McSpadden Dulcimers (These dulcimers are considered some of the finest. Most dulcimer players want to own one.)
Folkcraft Instruments
Blue Lion Dulcimers
Terry's Dulcimer Page (Tabs, sound files and links)

(more events are listed on some of the above sites)

The Swannanoa Gathering (In Black Mountain, NC...just outside Asheville)
Dulcimer Week at Western Carolina University
John C. Campbell Folk School (Dulcimer Instruction...go to Course Listing, then Music)


Doofus Music Dulcimer Links (Many more sites [44] to explore...scroll down to Dulcimer)


Everything Dulcimer...the ultimate dulcimer site
The Mountain Dulcimer Index (Information on buying a dulcimer, and it has an excellent history of the instrument)
Jean Ritchie's Page (Jean is considered the Mother of the Modern Dulcimer Revival)
The Dulcimer Player's News (The periodical for all dulcimer news)
Dulcimer Music CDs (I highly recommend Delcimore by David Schnaufer w/Cyndi Lauper)


(Another traditional folk instrument that both Barbara and I are learning)

A Bowed Psaltery
A Bowed Psaltery

The bowed psaltery has been around for 1000s of years. The most sacred musical instrument of the ancient Hebrews was a plucked psaltery with 10 strings which dates back to Biblical times. Today's bowed psaltery was probably developed in the late 1940s in Germany. It was brought to the U.S. in the late 1950s as an easy to play, inexpensive novelty instrument, and became popular with folk musicians.
It's in the shape of an isosceles triangle with hitch pins on both top sides and tuned like a piano. In fact, when looking at a psaltery's strings, you can visualize the white keys on one side, and the black keys on the other. It is extremely easy to play, and, like the dulcimer, requires no knowledge of music. The bow is drawn across the strings between the pins to produce one tone at a time. The psaltery produces a beautifully haunting sound, and can only be appreciated when heard (check out the sound samples in the sites below). Some makers today are producing psalteries of concert quality...much different than the cheap novelties they once were. If you're not familiar with the bowed psaltery, I hope these sites will enlighten you to it's beauty...both of looks and sound.

Bowed Psalteries
Bowed Psaltery Information (has some good pictures of psaltries. Also has a sound sample in RealAudio)
Omega Strings(Has a history of the psaltery)
Apollo's Axes (Sells bowed psalteries)
James Jones Instruments(Good information site about psalteries. Also has a sound sample in Quicktime)

I hope you have enjoyed learning about dulcimers and psalteries. If you wish to return to my home pageclick here. Otherwise use the drop down menu below to visit other pages.


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