Dulcimer, Dulcimer

by Mike Wilson

This song is all about a cool instrument your kids may be unfamiliar with. It's called a mountain, Appalachian, or lap dulcimer. It's a stringed instrument that you play on your lap, hence the name. What's cool about it is that it only has three strings to worry about, so it's pretty easy to learn and play. Well, actually there are four strings because the highest one is doubled... but you play them together. It is a "diatonic" instrument so it plays the eight tones of the major scale. The standard tuning for a dulcimer is in the key of D, and the strings are D-A-DD beginning with the string farthest from you. Sometimes it's D-A-AA but we'll concern ourselves with the most standard.

The doubled string closest to you is called the "melody" string while the others are called "drone" strings. Quick history lesson: Scottish and Irish settlers to America were among those who were responsible for what this instrument is now. It came from a "Zither" with more strings, but the early settlers reduced the number of strings because of the cost. They also liked the drone – just like bagpipes – so the dulcimer could be used for songs they liked and remembered.

You can play the dulcimer in a couple of different styles. If you use what's called a "noter," which is just a stick, you slide it up and down the melody string while strumming all the strings. You use a pick in your right hand, or in the old days, a feather to strum. The other way to play is to use the fingers of your left hand so you can play chords. It's a little more complicated but much more fun and rewarding in the long run.

This song is a simple unison song with a BAG recorder part. You'll hear it works like a partner song where part two is the recorder so you have verse one sung, verse two recorder, and verse three with both singers and recorders. (The recorder part is on page 55.)

The dulcimer has a beautiful sound and, if you have access, it would be a treat to bring one into the classroom so the kids can experience it firsthand. We created a mix with dulcimers only so you can hear what the instrument sounds like by itself. See page 77 for details. Note: As a special treat, Mike Wilson gives a video lesson on the dulcimer that you can share with your students. Details for accessing this are also available in the box on page 77.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.