Can I really play that on a hammered dulcimer?

Posted by Dusty Strings - 2014-06-13 12:02:00

The blog has been rather harp-heavy lately, so we thought we'd throw in something dulcimer-related this week...

People often ask us what kind of music can be played on a hammered dulcimer, and the short answer is that you can play pretty much anything. The longer answer is that it does depend a lot on the range and chromatic capability of your particular instrument. So what better way to give you a taste of the grand possibilities than to show you a few videos of people playing our largest chromatic dulcimer in a variety of styles!

To start with, how about a nice Irish tune? This is Brian Boru’s March, played by Timothy Seaman on a D600. Traditional Celtic music is a very popular genre for the hammered dulcimer, and mostly doesn’t require a chromatic instrument. However, much more variation becomes available when you have a larger range to work with (as well as dampers).

Bluegrass is another popular genre that is well-suited to almost any size of dulcimer, and here it is on a D600! Otter Creek is an original tune by banjo player Brad Kolodner, played here as a duet with Ken Kolodner on hammered dulcimer. The arrangement is particularly interesting for the extensive use of dampers, which make the dulcimer sound almost like a marimba. That muted, percussive sound is a great blend with the banjo and also highlights the rhythmic element of the tune.

Traditional music is great, but what if you want to play Classical piano pieces? Well, here is where having a chromatic instrument and a large range will help. Unlike the mostly-diatonic bluegrass and Celtic tunes, most Classical pieces change keys a few times and incorporate a number of accidentals. On top of that, some pieces are written for the full 7-octave range of a piano. So the larger your dulcimer’s range, the fewer adjustments you’ll have to make. Here’s an example of Ted Yoder playing Bach’s Prelude in C from The Well Tempered Clavier. He uses the full range of the D650, and since the extended bass range is not fully chromatic, he’s had to re-tune a few bass notes to get what he needs. As he says himself, it’s not a perfect performance, but it’s a great example of what’s possible. (The playing starts at about 1:30)

You can also play Christmas music:

And pop music (bonus: damper bars are good for more than just damping!):

And even bluesy gospel music (did you know you can bend notes on the hammered dulcimer?):

Obviously, this doesn’t even come close to representing everything you can play this fantastic instrument, but hopefully something in here was inspiring to you. If you have a favorite hammered dulcimer video you think we should know about, send us an email and we’ll do our best to share it in a future blog post!



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