Talk:Appalachian dulcimer

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For earlier history of this article, see dulcimer

Organization of article[edit]

I'd like to propose that this article be restructured, based to a certain extent the structure of the Saxophone article, one musical instrument article that has reached Featured Article status. The new structure would be as follows:

History (incorporating the current "Usage" and "Musicians who play" sections) -- Construction (incorporating current "Production" section) -- Modes and tuning (rewrite of current section) -- Types of dulcimers (new section on various types including bass, baritone, dulcimette, electric) -- Technique (now called Playing) -- References -- See also -- External links

I'll wait a while to see if there's any feedback before I attempt any reorganization. Cheers, 3oranges 20:41, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

Your suggestions on organization make sense to me. This was my first attempt at this sort of thing, I'm glad it wasn't a total failure.

With regard to your comments on the Modes and Tunings section, Ralph Lee Smith (no relation) writes in "Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions" (The Scarecrow Press, 2002) that dulcimers were not typically played with other instruments, so the absolute pitch of the notes was not critical, only the relationship between them. The strings were tuned so that they were at a "good tension." He says that this means they were usually tuned somewhere between a C and an E, but this was dependent on the actual length of the instrument's string span, and some Virginia dulcimers could be tuned up to F. He discusses the 1 5 5 type tunings, like CGG or DAA as being the usual case, but that other modal tunings were also used. As you mentioned, there is also a tradition of tuning all the strings to the same note, usually with the bass string an octave lower than the middle and melody strings. This is usually called "Galax" tuning after the town in Virgina where this arrangment was popular. In this arrangement, one can play tunes in either D mixolydian, with the drones being the root of the scale, or in G ionian where the drones are the fifth of the scale without having to retune. (From DDD tuning)

I've been a little free with the terms like "fifth" etc. In the traditional sense, these were probably perfect fifths, i.e. "beatless" fifths, and the fret pattern was likely set for just intonation. Modern instruments are usually built with an equal tempered scale, so the fifth is a couple of cents off of the perfect 2/3 ratio of frequencies. 03:07, 30 November 2006 (UTC) Steven K. Smith


This page really needs a better photo! 06:52, 20 September 2006 (UTC)


Rewritten to include citations, and to cover a wider range of playing styles. This article should probably be called "Technique." Cheers, danrharper (at) aol (dot) com, 26 November 2006

Strings and Tuning[edit]

There's a lot of confusion between a mode and a tuning on the Appalachian dulcimer. The two concepts are linked, when applied to the instrument, but they are seperate subjects. While tuned to DAD one can play in any of the standard "Church" modes. You can also do this in DAA, DAC, etc. I made some edits to the article to try to ease some of the confusion. For a more thorough discussion see the article on my website, 13:20, 24 November 2006 (UTC)Steven K. Smith

The whole section on strings and tuning needs to be rewritten. First, the articles needs citations from folklorists or musical historians regarding the assertion that DAA is the traditional tuning -- as a counterexample, Bonnie Russell tunes her dulcimer to ddD, said to be the traditional tuning in her region of Virginia; other traditional players tune to dAD. Also, as Steven Smith points out, there is an important distinction between tuning and modes -- in addition to that distinction, a dulcimer can be built such that fret intonation is equal temperament (which does not yield perfect fifths) or some form of just intonation that will yield perfect fifths in some modes, but not in others. While this may seem like too much of a distinction, some dulcimer makers build their instruments with the frets in Ionian mode (whole number fractions of the theoretical string length), instead of spacing them according to equal temperament (using the 12th root of 2 as the multiplier), meaning that retuning the strings or using a capo can result in some strange intervals. Also, the description of tuning and the "warbling sound" is pretty confusing -- why not just describe how to tune using harmonics? (or completely skip the description of how to tune). The description of making a home-made capo should probably be removed, unless the article also describes the far more basic tasks of how to make a pick from a turkey feather, and how to make a noter from a piece of dowel.

All this criticism is meant in the best possible way -- hopefully to inspire someone with deeper knowledge of the history and mechanics of the instrument takes this on (i.e., I'm not qualified to write it, I'm barely qualified enough to criticize). Cheers, 3oranges 20:41, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

Just now took out tuning and capo directions along with some other stuff -- as it stands now, there's an external link to a site with tuning directions and a lot of other helpful info. __Just plain Bill (talk) 03:53, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

Regarding the "Mixolydian mode (a blues scale)" I disagree that the mixolydian mode is equivalent to a blues scale, if that is what is being implied. There are several ways of playing the blues pentatonic scales on the mountain dulcimer, but what I understand as this scale (root, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th, flat 7th) does not correspond to the mixolydian scale, not even as a subset of the scale, since it lacks the flat 3rd. (talk) 13:01, 15 April 2011 (UTC)Steven K. Smith sksmith(at)sksmithmusic(dot)com

Cyndi Lauper[edit]

Well when I read the article about the Hammered dulcimer, I got the idea she cannot play that but must have played this one on her outstanding performance of "Time After Time" with Patti LaBelle on VH1 Divas Live on April 04th, 2004. Can anyone confirm, was it an Appalachian one? -andy 10:41, 4 October 2006 (UTC)

she played a mountain dulcimer on strawberry fields at "come together," a televised john lennon tribute concert. -- mwbassguy

Joni Mitchell[edit]

Used the dulcimer all throughout the album 'Blue'and should be listed in the section of people who play —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:52, 19 September 2007 (UTC)

Margaret MacArthur[edit]

Margaret MacArthur (1928 - 2006) was an important player of the Appalachian dulcimer. If anyone is in the mood to write an article, here are a couple of useful biographies:

Ogg 16:06, 15 October 2007 (UTC)

Too late guys, I've done it myself. Ogg (talk) 18:29, 26 December 2007 (UTC)


The infobox that just showed up carried an inappropriately long list of "related instruments" that I just pruned. I may have cut out some instruments that should have stayed in; I'll go back over it when I have more time. No need to have it list every plucked string instrument, though... there are links for that right in the article.

This infobox has just shown up on a lot of pages, and if you find a better central place to discuss it, please drop a note here. I think it's going to need a lot of tuning before it really works. __Just plain Bill (talk) 22:11, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

Started a heading in Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Musical Instruments
__ Just plain Bill (talk) 22:42, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

Form separate article for "Musicians who use the Appalachian dulcimer"[edit]

Can we maybe chop this list and make a new article List of musicians who play Appalachian dulcimer or List of Appalachian dulcimer players, and then just give a link in the article? The list really adds a lot of bulk to the article as it is now. MatthewVanitas. Update: since no objections, I went ahead and chopped it to a list, categorised and linked. (talk) 18:21, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

proposing adding an EL to an Appalachian Dulcimer online support website...[edit]

Hello I am trying to add an external link to the online support community called Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, like this:

It is being continually deleted, even though other external links to dulcimer informational sites that are more commercial or promotional are left intact. I am not familiar with how to do this without it being deleted over and over. Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer is an informative site that encourages beginner players and helps people to learn about the instrument and make helpful contacts with others who play the instrument. It is entirely free, and has no commercial or profit making ties of any kind.

Can someone help me figure out what I can do to establish this link on the Wiki Appalachian Dulcimer page?

thank you, ellen smith 23:04, 26 October 2009 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Omie26 (talkcontribs)

Rewrite "Strings and Tuning" and "Playing" sections?[edit]

These two sections seem very dense and not at all accessible, even for a person familiar with string instruments. I'm interested in taking a stab at re-writing them to make the as clear as possible with a minimum of confusing parentheticals. I just wanted to sound it out first and see if folks concur that those sections are difficult to read. MatthewVanitas (talk) 00:00, 28 November 2009 (UTC)

I would not call them dense and inaccessible, but it was the mountain dulcimer that put some practical knowledge of modal tunes into my ears and fingers long ago, so I am not exactly looking at it with a fresh eye. "Strings and Tuning" could use some expansion and clarification (and wikilinks) while "Playing" seems to be in a bit better shape. Maybe could stand to have a bulletized list of positions, but I'm of two minds about that. Carry on, and I'll try to help. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 05:03, 28 November 2009 (UTC)

Range? Also, there are references to notes but not specific notes. For instance, maybe an instrument is tuned DDA (whatever! Just an example...) What Ds are we talking about? The one an octave below middle C, the one just above middle C and the A above that or what? Gingermint (talk) 05:51, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

The octave depends on the specific instrument to some degree. For a "normal" dulcimer the bass string is usually (in my experience) tuned to the D below middle C. However, there are octave "Dulcimettes" as well, where the bass string is tuned to the D above middle C, and "Bass Dulcimers" with the bass string at D two octaves below Middle C (approx 73 Hz). To further confuse matters, there are "Baritone Dulcimers" that are often tuned AEA, with the bass string tuned to the second A below middle C (110 Hz), and "Baritone Dulcimettes" tuned an octave above the Baritone version. (talk) 12:44, 15 April 2011 (UTC)Steven K. Smith sksmith(at)sksmithmusic(dot)com

Music examples[edit]

Hey, what does Dulcimer music look like? I know they read tab' but they also read regular notation. Is this notation transposing and how are chords indicated etc. Gingermint (talk) 05:52, 14 November 2010 (UTC)

A modest re-work[edit]

Having a fairly extensive knowledge of the instrument, I took the liberty of reworking this article a little. I removed the historical material from the "usage" section and consolidated it with the "origins" section up top. The combined section is called "Origins and history." I added some basic information. I will work on sourcing it over the next couple of weeks, but dulcimer buffs know that what I've added --- JE Thomas, Jethro Amburgey, etc -- is hardly controversial.

I left in the passage referring to Maxson, but this really should be eliminated. He wasn't the first to speculate on these matters and there are better sources to refer to.

The "Usage" section is now called "Contemporary usage". It's basically untouched, although I could not in good faith leave in the "widely used" reference in the intro. The instrument is increasingly familiar and important, but it is still comparatively rare, even in old time music circles. I also referred to professional dulcimer musicians, of whom Seifert and O'Rourke are probably the most popular.

If people are happy with the direction I've taken the article, I'll spend more time on it as I can.

Richard Latker — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:46, 7 September 2011 (UTC)

Some tweaking[edit]

First --- my apologies that I'm still unfamiliar with the coding for citations and references. I will try to overcome this limitation. But if there's a skilled wiki editor monitoring this page, I can gladly provide the source material for my additions. Please email me at

I spent a few minutes today clarifying the description of traditional noter-drone play, and explained how changes in instrument construction facilitated the emergence of contemporary chord-melody play in the early 1960s. I raised the issue of intonation, which is of particular significance for the mountain dulcimer. I also deleted some repetition (eg, cardboard dulcimers) and a couple of unsustainable/unsourced assertions (eg, the "California dulcimer").

The article still needs considerable improvement. I'd like to delete the Maxson citations from history section - he's not a recognised authority - and replace it with cogent material from folks like Gerald Milnes, Richard Hulan and Ralph Lee Smith.

I'd also like to re-write the tuning & playing sections, which do not read particularly well and omit a lot of basic & salient information. But I'm reluctant to do so until I feel more comfortable inserting the appropriate links and citations. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pristine2 (talkcontribs) 07:39, 10 August 2012 (UTC)