The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition – by Kitty Stratton


The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition

 Kitty Stratton

Northeast Georgia is part of the Appalachian Mountain region and has a strong and rich heritage dating back to when its coves and mountains were first settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants. When these immigrants arrived they brought with them strong traditions of storytelling, folklore and music.

Their music was rooted in English and Scottish ballads and Irish reels and one of the main instruments used to play this music was the violin or fiddle.   As time went by it became difficult to find violin makers in the Appalachian Mountains and a need for an easier to make string instrument gave birth to the Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer.

There is no previous recorded history of a dulcimer anywhere else in the world although it is related to other diatonic fretted string instruments.  It is even possible that its roots date back to the mediaeval psaltery a stringed harp-like instrument.

Today the dulcimer is regaining popularity and there are many, delightful recordings of music played on the dulcimer.  Some of my favorite music played on the dulcimer are the old time hymns.

I recently had the opportunity to take some beginning dulcimer lessons.  I had not yet purchased a dulcimer, thinking it might be wise to wait and see if it was a fleeting whim or a true interest.  On a beautiful winter morning I traveled over to Helen to the Smithgall Woods State Park to take my first mountain dulcimer lesson.

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Gwen Aumann, our dulcimer teacher for the afternoon has, “Discovering the joy of the Dulcimer”  written on the top of her business cards.  After 3 hours of her kind and patient instruction and hearing myself and the rest of the small group of beginners actually playing, “Boil them Cabbage Down” and the lovely hymn, “Nothing but The Blood of Jesus”, I felt I had truly discovered the joy of the dulcimer.  The dulcimer is not a difficult instrument to learn to play and there is definitely a feeling of joy playing with others.

To my surprise, Gwen had dulcimers for rent, for those not quite ready to make a financial commitment.  I was especially delighted by the “cardboard” dulcimer she had brought along as a loaner.  The sound it produced was very pleasant and I proudly headed home, with my very own cardboard dulcimer for a week!

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I had signed up for two lessons and will probably end up purchasing my own dulcimer. Gwen gave us good sound advice on the different types of dulcimers that are available for sale.  Depending on the sound you are looking for you will want to ask what type of wood a dulcimer is made from.  A cherry wood instrument will produce a brighter sound than say a walnut which is mellower. Dulcimers can vary tremendously in price, from something cheap you could purchase on EBay for example to an expensive performance dulcimer.

For anyone interested in learning to play the dulcimer either individually or in a group, email Gwen Aumann  you will definitely not be disappointed and you will discover the joy of playing the mountain dulcimer.

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