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It had been a long while since I had seen or heard a hammered dulcimer.  Last month a Celtic group was playing, so I came home and googled and read and listened.  I do not have one.  My question: is it any good to play it at home just for me or will this get old and boring without others and a "backup band"?  I used to play piano and can still peck away.  Tried a guitar but the hands and wrists and fingers didn't compute with holding and playing vs. horizontally on the piano.  A piano can be a complete melody and song on its own.  Concerned about getting a dulcimer and then it being a dust catcher due to lack of music and songs I recognize.  I know everyone's boredom level is different -- just wondered how feasible this is.

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It depends on how you feel about piano music by its self. The hammered dulcimer is the ancestor of the piano. Just about any music you like [melody] can be played on a chromatic HD. There are limits to that on the more common diatonic HDs.  The reason for saying 'melody' Is a piano responds to finger input [10], the HD to hands [2]. so it limits the bass line. Like any other solo instrument, it depends on your motivation and interest.

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"Concerned about...lack of music and songs I recognize..."  

What kind(s) of music do you know and love?  There are TONS of Celtic music for the HD -- virtually all of O'Carolan's compositions and the Chieftain's just to mention a few hundred pieces.  There are thousands of other tunes and songs arranged for HD, plus many more original compositions.  

There are both diatonic and chromatic Hammered Dulcimers.   The chromatic HD's range is limited only by your ability to play.  The music may not be quite as 'rich' as that of a piano because of the 2 hammers vs 10 fingers thing, but I don't think you'll find that a 'lack' for a dozen or twenty years.    Go to YouTube and search on "Hammered Dulcimer Music".  Chris Foss, Joshua Messic, Tim Seamans, Mark Alan Wade and Ted Yoder just to name a couple accomplished players.  Those same players, and others offer a variety of YouTube lessons and tutorials.

 

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Just a consideration: on a hammered dulcimer the bass notes on the right side while the treble notes are on the left, just the opposite of the piano. That confuses some people with an extensive piano background but others have no problem at all.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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First, thanks for the responses.   Next question -- learning to play without an instructor actually beside me?  sheet music?  music to play?  difficulty in learning songs?  And if we're sheltered in place for who knows how long, is it feasible to buy a dulcimer (via the internet) without actually trying it?

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Since there is so much YouTube and teacher specific video these days, I suspect that learning without a teacher beside you will be reasonably easy.  You'll learn techniques and then have to perfect them on you own anyway.  Sheet music and tabulature is readily available.  Steve Eulberg of Dulcimer Crossing has some good intros to tabulature and how to play videos on YouTube.  

Buying one on-line is feasible, but the chances of it arriving in-tune and are probably not good.  There are a LOT of strings!   Your first lesson will be "how to tune my new Hammered Dulcimer".  

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Posted (edited)

If you read music, you don't have to worry about learning HD tab. It is just a matter learning where the notes are on the hammered dulcimer. Also, you may get better responses if you move this to the Hammered Dulcimer section of this site.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Edited by KWL

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About lessons:  Ken Kolodner has tons of downloadable e-lessons you can buy, and he is the best player/teacher out there, IMO. 

I wouldn't buy a dulcimer without hearing it. Most websites have a demo, maybe, or could play it over the phone. You definitely want to get one you like the sound of.

I just play mine at home now, but I enjoy playing in jams with other people, I just don't have the opportunity much any more due to work, etc. I think you learn more and are inspired more when you get together with people and swap tunes and techniques.

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Posted (edited)

The only disadvantage to a hammered dulcimer is carting it around to and at festivals and such.  However many folks use some form of collapsible cart these days, which makes it easy.  Like Ardenvoir, I think you can be perfectly happy playing by yourself at home, but getting out and getting together with others challenges you to learn and improve you skills.  I don't know where you live, but I strongly advise getting involved in a local dulcimer club, even if it means an all day trip once a month to get together with other HD and MD players.

Edited by NoterMan

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I too, also had trouble with guitar, and my fingers are not long enough for a full octave on a piano. Since the hammered dulcimer is played using hammers and only wrist motion, I find the action easy. As stated a chromatic dulcimer which contains more of the flats and sharps can play pretty much anything.They are usually around 3.5 to 4.5 octaves going from A2 to A6 for a bass extension, or A3 to E7 for a treble extension.The really expensive ones have 5 octaves. The standard diatomic however do contain F#3,4,5, D#4 and C#3,4,5, and only a B4 flat and if you get a 16/15 it is a full three octaves from A3 to E6 the top 3 notes may be tuned to sharps depending on the builder. As for music, any instruments that use basically only a treble staff, or single notes will work. That includes guitar, violin, flute, etc. The weight has been taken into account by manufacturers that now have a lite version to carry, if you intend to take it places. The headache is keeping it in tune. 

The American hammered dulcimer that would be reasonably playable has two strings per note (course) so a 16/15 would have 31x2 = 62 strings to tune. The better the dulcimer normally the strings will stay in tune for ??. The cheaper ones approximately 2 days, and the bad ones need turning daily. There are single string dulcimers but the sound is not that great. 

There are also newly developed piano hammered dulcimers (expensive) that provide the white and black keys of a piano up to around 55 keys. They are not mainstream but available. 

If you are in a location of a HD teacher you are lucky. Covid seems to have destroyed most hands on lessons, and you can learn a little from videos, but they are difficult to try to figure out what strings are being played. There are 100's of free music scores from classical to Celtic available for HD. The videos are good to catch the rhythm.

The HD will play chords, for accompaniment and in some cases you can play your own harmony and melody. I am still trying to find out how the chords are played with a melody, since a three beat chord and a 1/4 note for the melody would have to be reduced to 1/16 for the 4 notes, and I don't think this is correct.

Hope this helps.

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