Bowed "dulcimer"?

It's a bow! It's a dulcimer. Now what do I do? :-)

Re: Bowed "dulcimer"?

Postby strumelia » Tue Mar 15, 2016 10:04 am

And then there's the bowed 'harmonium' or Tennessee music box (and other variously-named box zithers not from Tennessee). I just love the sound of those bowed...so haunting. Its a completely different sound than the bowed dulcimer or a regular mtn dulcimer bowed. One day i hope to get a box dulcimer for both strumming and bowing!
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Re: Bowed "dulcimer"?

Postby Ken Bloom » Tue Mar 15, 2016 12:21 pm

I began bowing the dulicmer back in the 70's. At the time I had a wonderful dulcimer that my friend Robby Long made for me. Since it had a 30" string length it sounded great tuned lower. The bottom string sounded very rich when I bowed it. I began my current journey into the bowed dulcimer back in the 90's. I got the idea while doing some recording for a friend and overdubbing some bowed parts using a lap dulcimer. At the time I thought I could make an instrument that was more bow-friendly and sound better. I looked around at the family of bowed instruments and looked closely at the gamba family and the gadulka. The gamba approach seemed the most fruitful. I have continued in this vein, making changes that I thought would give a richer tone and also make it easier to play.Thus it has evolved into an instrument that is much deeper at the tailpiece end than the peghead end, with an arched fingerboard and a soundboard which has been carved and graduated. Internal changes have been legion. This is an ongoing project. I have made changes from other folks' suggestions and come up with variations to satisfy other folks' desires.

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http://www.boweddulcimer.org
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Re: Bowed "dulcimer"?

Postby strumelia » Tue Mar 15, 2016 2:28 pm

Robin Thompson has made a really helpful video describing her journey from bowing a regular mtn dulcimer to getting one of Ken Bloom's bowed dulcimer instruments, and the differences between them:
http://fotmd.com/robin-thompson/youtube/530/how-i-came-to-decide-i-wanted-a-bowed-dulcimer
or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1KikYj1GLM

Dr_H, are you interested in playing dulcimer with a bow yourself?
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Re: Bowed "dulcimer"?

Postby Dr_H » Tue Mar 15, 2016 3:51 pm

Ken Bloom wrote:Hi Dr. H,

Anyone is welcome here. I do my best to help folks do what they want to do. One suggestion for a name for the instruments I make is Nouvelle Rebec but at this late date bowed dulcimer has definitely stuck. I am familiar with some of the older ways of bowing a dulcimer and did that early on in my dulcimer playing career decades ago. I am a failed fiddle player and the bowed dulcimer makes it possible for me to play in a fiddle-like manner and not empty the room. I have found that the instrument works well for jazz, blues, klezmer and my meager attempts at early Baroque. My focus is on expanding the repertoire and application of the instrument as well as making better sounding ones. I don't worry a lot about classifications etc. I have seen these types of arguments in too many other places with similarly unsatisfying results. I'm very happy to talk about any aspect of playing with a bow and to try and help where I can. Just my 2p.

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http://www.boweddulcimer.org


Yeah I can see where "rebec" would fit, too. But like you say, what it's called is what it's called. It won't be the first instrument to have a name that puzzles musicologists 400 years later. (I think of the tromba marina -- or "marine trumpet", which is actually a bowed string instrument.)

As a composer I've done plenty of "extended techniques" on various instruments, and even created some of my own hybrids. There is a certain element of humor in this practice, though. I know a number of people experimenting with bowing guitars, for instance. I've done this, and typically you can bow the top string, the bottom string, or all of the strings, but not individual middle strings -- because even radiused guitar bridges are pretty flat.

But one friend of mine put a high enough radius on the bridge that he can pick out any individual string. This of course required creating a highly radiused fingerboard to allow fingering those strings in tune. Then he felt that he needed more resonance for the bowed sound, so he made the body bigger. This made the instrument harder to hold, so he added a floor peg. I pointed out that what he has now is essentially a guitar-shaped viol da gamba, and that all he needs to do is add a sound post and pull out the frets, and he will have reinvented the cello. He sheepishly agreed, but carries on, undaunted. :)

And he makes good music, so who cares what he calls it?

I'm kind of a nerd about music, though, so I always like to know the "why" behind things, if possible.

I haven't tried bow on the mountain dulcimer much (yet), but the little I have tried has been in traditional playing position (flat on my lap), and across all strings. I've thought of trying an e-bow on it, to pick out individual strings. The e-bow does work on acoustic instruments, although not nearly as well as on electrics. But I've gotten sounds out of acoustic guitar, 12-string, mandolin, banjo, and tiple with it, so I have no reason to believe it won't work with dulcimer.
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Re: Bowed "dulcimer"?

Postby Ken Bloom » Tue Mar 15, 2016 4:22 pm

The e-bow does work fine, just not a lot of volume but then, that's what knobs are for. Don't expect much in the way of a rich tone or volume when bowing a lap dulcimer. Most of them are thin and very quiet.I have made instruments for a number of film composers and they have all used them with a lot of imagination. One of my clients, Roger Mason, a composer in Australia, has gotten some very effective and inventive sounds from his. I am currently making him a double bass and I will be very interested to see how that gets applied.

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