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Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:45 pm
by Donnie Fulwood
I'm considering donating a few dulcimers to my grandsons grade school. I may offer to teach a beginners class if the music or band teacher doesn't want to do so. It's a private Christian school so they will most likely want gospel tunes. I believe that beginners should first learn to play noter and drone style so I'll be teaching that way if this works out.

At what age or what grade of school do you think there would be a good chance of teaching maybe three to five youngsters to play as a group for Christmas plays and such?

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 2:45 pm
by kwl
Donnie, I've worked with various age groups at church camp starting with grade 2. If find that the younger children do not have a long enough attention span to concentrate on one song for too long. The simpler the tune, the better. By fifth grade, children should be able to spend more time in learning a tune. If you plan to play more than one tune, I would suggest starting with the upper end of your age groups.

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 8:51 am
by halfpint
I worked with a group of 3-5th grade students several years ago with 15 per grade so I had three classes of 15. I had one hour per week with each group for the first half of the year (the teacher took over for the 2nd half). For the third grade students, only a few really picked it up enough to play well. It was harder to keep the dulcimers in tune with the younger children as they were more likely to play with or knock the tuners. Most in the 4th grade group could do well, and although not all of the 5th grade students liked playing, all of them could follow along pretty well. Unfortunately I know of only one family of two children in that group of 45 that stuck with playing the dulcimer, and they have moved away. Since only a few of the children had dulcimers at home, the students were not able to practice which was not helpful.

Congratulations for wanting to work with the children! Music seems to no longer be a priority in schools - or in homes anymore.

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2009 4:24 pm
by WaterPig Master
Hi there
Music seems to no longer be a priority in schools

Sadly, you are absolutely right. My mother is a teacher, and I read her teaching magazines every now and again. THere was an article not long ago about this, how most primary schools' 'music department' is a box of percussion. Thankfully my primary school did very well with the music department. THey've gone further than just recorder and keyboard - they now have harp, brass and ukulele teachers!

Good to see people wanting to work with childeren. I would live to do that part time in the future, but if I went to a primary school there's the danger of students not being interested for long, and if I go to secondary... well, how many teenagers want to learn the Accordion or the Dulcimer? How many KNOW about the accordion and the dulcimer?


Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:27 am
by cristian huet
yesterday my 5 years old boy decided to learn dulcimer to his 5 months old brother !
it was funny, charmful and so nice ! :D

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:43 am
by Stephen Seifert
Both of my kids were allowed to "explore" the dulcimer before they could walk. Everything after age three was more musical. From about 3 to 4, I just let them goof off on it. From about 4 to 5, I gave them a 2 minute lesson, had them do what I was showing them for just a little, then I just let them do whatever.

Now that they're 6 and 7, I'm starting to work on echoing rhythms, hear-then-sing, and reading simple tab. A good bit of time is spent on getting them to do what I'm doing on the dulcimer as I do it by telling them to keep their eyes glued to my hands. I just say, "Do what I do." The largest percentage of their play time, I just want them to do whatever they want.

My main desire has always been for them to play from the heart right from the start, no matter how simple the music.

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 7:05 am
by Jeff Samsel

We have mountain dulcimers all over our home, and all our children (five from 14 months to 14 years) enjoy at least strumming the strings. Asher, our 5-year-old, realy likes learning from his 11-year-old brother, Nathaniel, and last night Asher decided he wanted to try out the Open Stage at our local arts center.

I understand that a home and school are different settings, but I believe that a child who has an interest in the mountain dulcimer can learn at some level at any age. Nathaniel started at 8 because that was his age when he and I discovered dulcimers.

Jeff Samsel
Clarkesville, GA

Please visit Nathaniel online at

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Fri Jan 22, 2010 2:03 pm
by kwl
Great job for Asher's first gig. Nathaniel did a fine job of supporting him. Thanks for sharing the video.

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:15 pm
by The Mousetrapezoid
Music seems to no longer be a priority in schools - or in homes anymore.
Too true, Dawn. The disinterest in each environment is contagious to the other. School boards decide what programs stay in the curriculum and which ones go, and if those officials choose (or are pressured by parents, school officials, local politicians, etc to choose) to keep some popular sports programs, and spend the district's money on equipment and training and insurance and the upkeep of outdoor playing fields and indoor playing courts, then other programs like music will suffer the consequences and be dropped.

So, those of you out there who lament this turn of events, make sure your voices are heard at any school board meetings that are open to the public! Work with the PTA to lobby for music programs to be kept in schools. Contact the school superintendent, send letters to your congressmen, write to your local paper... do anything except sit around and bemoan the fact that it's such a shame that no one will do anything!

As to the expense of instruments: While that is undoubtedly a big factor, it's not insurmountable. Dulcimers for kids can be made inexpensively -- using cardboard! Recently I was at a Fourth of July picnic where the host showed me one of the cardboard dulcimers that he and a friend used to make voluntarily, and donate to local schools for music classes, when he was younger. The schools then gave the instruments to the less-advantaged kids whose parents couldn't afford better. Of course the corrugated cardboard didn't look attractive, and the nails he used as frets would horrify any luthier, but the instrument got the job done. So, if you or someone you know can do the same sort of thing for your local school or church or community center, go for it!

The point is to give kids some hands-on experience at making music on their own, without a computer program that does all the work for them and fails to teach them skills they need to learn (patience, persistence, creativity, dexterity, etc.). The point is not to make dulcimer players out of a high percentage of the kids in every class you may teach, so don't be disappointed in those kids who don't stick with it when your class is over. They will have taken something away from the class, even if you can't tell right now. Maybe they'll take up other instruments as teenagers, or maybe they'll use what they've learned about music to become better math or science students... or maybe they'll remember when they're fifty-something how much they liked the dulcimer and will take it up again! But not one of them will be any worse off for having learned something about music at a young age.

We've seen from anecdotes and videos that kids are ready and eager to learn dulcimer at what may seem like a surprisingly young age.... when they are exposed to the instrument as part of their lives, and to the fun that others around them are having with it! I think the key, when teaching any age, is to keep it enjoyable. When practicing becomes too much like drudge work, no one of any age will stick at it. Try to make a game and/or a tune out of the sequence of notes that must be practiced, and play it together. If possible, take kids to a jam where they can see adults having fun trying to play a tune faster or with more embellishments -- so they can see that people of any age like to improve their skills.

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Thu Aug 18, 2011 8:52 am
by KenH
Introduce 'em to music while they're still in the womb. Get 'em weaned before you let them start exploring an instrument though....

Waldorf school systems start exposing kids to pentatonic scales in kindergarden; by second grade they're composing in pentatonic and learning Modes/diatonic scales...

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2011 2:41 pm
by Linda Collins
I'm about to start working with a small group of kids from grades 3 to 5, and I'm really looking forward to it. I appreciate your comments, Steve, about "Do what I do." That's got to be a great way to go!

Re: Good age to start kids on dulcimer?

PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2011 2:18 pm
by Banjimer
I've worked with students in 1st grade through 5th grade on the dulcimer, and I've found that interest plays a far more important role than chronological age. The best player I've had over the years was a second grader. The next best was a 5th grader. The 2nd grader is now an elementary school teacher in Ohio. She still has her dulcimer and continues to play it occasionally. The 5th grader is a music major at a local college. She wants to be a music teacher. Her father built her dulcimer from a kit. She still continues to play her dulcimer. Most of the other students tried the dulcimer for a few weeks and then dropped it for lack of a continuing interest in the instrument. I found that it was especially difficult to get boys interested in the dulcimer. There are too many other things competing for their time, and most of their preferences lean to more active choices (sports, skateboarding, etc.) Girls, unless they are into sports or dance, have fewer outside choices and seem to be more satisfied with a quiet activity like dulcimer playing. All of the above are generalizations, but I'd venture to guess that if we polled our younger dulcimer players, the vast majority would be girls.

The best we can do with children is to give them the opportunity to experience the dulcimer firsthand. If they have the interest they will take it from there.