Dulcimers 101

Whether you are just interested in finding out more about the different types of dulcimers or are learning to play a dulcimer, you have come to the right place. Find out more in the sections below.


What is a hammered dulcimer?

The hammered dulcimer is the ancestor of the piano, a stringed instrument with many strings; to get different pitches the player moves from one string course to another and strikes them with small wooden hammers, much as the felt-covered hammers inside a piano strike the strings when the pianist presses the keys.

The hammered dulcimer was probably invented in ancient India a few thousand years ago and spread to Persia and the Middle East as well as to East Asia; the word “psaltery” in the Psalms may well refer to it, and a tile picture of a man playing one was dug up from an Assyrian Empire site. Dulcimers were brought to Europe during the Crusades and from there to James City County, Virginia (where we live!) in the 1600’s and were quite popular in America for 300 years. They died away about a century ago, but have been in revival here in America for the past few decades.

What is a mountain dulcimer?

The mountain dulcimer is an instrument originally called the scheitholz, brought over to America by the German settlers who filled the Appalachian region. It has only a few strings, most commonly four, and frets like a guitar but in the do-re-mi scale. It is usually tuned to only a few different pitches, so it is often played with a droning sound reminiscent of the bagpipe, and has been applied often to folk music originally from the British Isles, much of which was brought over by the Scotch-Irish settlers.

About a hundred years ago a company wanted to mass market the scheitholz and wanted a more marketable name, but they unfortunately chose the name “dulcimer,” so now we have to use adjectives to designate which of the instruments we mean. (The same company may have made up the false myth that the mountain dulcimer is the only instrument invented in America --- it really is from Germany!)

Where can you find fine crafted dulcimers?

  • Dusty Strings Dulcimer Company (they made Timothy's), Seattle, WA
  • Song Bird Dulcimers by Chris Foss, Muscatine, IA
  • Song of the Wood, by Jerry Read Smith (he made Timothy's newer bowed psaltery), Black Mountain, NC
  • Master Works, by Russell Cook, Bennington, OK
  • David's Dulcimers, by David Lindsey, Bennington, OK
  • Cloud Nine, by Michael C. Allen, Ostrander, OH
  • James Jones (he made Timothy's plucked psaltery --"zither"-- and the bowed psaltery on all Timothy's CDs), Bedford, VA
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (he made Timothy's mountain dulcimer), Chesapeake, VA: 757/487-2734
  • Sam Rizzetta (he designed Timothy's hammered dulcimer in collaboration with Dusty Strings), Inwood, WV: 304/229-3166
  • Nicholas Blanton Instruments, Shepherdstown, WV

Does Timothy offer instrument and music lessons?

Yes. For more than two decades Timothy has given lessons on hammered dulcimer at his home in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA, and for a decade in the past taught beginner to advanced beginner flute and folk guitar (and coaching advanced players in expression and improv); now he's offering lessons again on flute, whistle, and guitar, as well as mountain dulcimer and psaltery!

For more specifics, see Music Lessons.


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A brief history of the hammered dulcimer, along with many of its international names, can be found here. Be sure to also check out the introductory videos Timothy has done about the hammered dulcimer. Many more videos can be found on Timothy's YouTube channel.