Appalachian mountain dulcimer and the hammered dulcimer are traditional instruments in American culture that have roots in
our cultural heritage and in cultures from around the world.
The Hammered Dulcimer is an ancestor of the piano. It is a trapezoidal instrument
with many courses of strings which the player strikes with small hammers. It
may have originated in the Middle East during the first millennium AD, and versions are found throughout Europe and Asia. The hammered dulcimer became popular in England during
the reign of King James I (1566-1625), and British colonists brought it to America
prior to the Revolution.
contrast, the Appalacian mountain dulcimer is a relatively new instrument and is uniquely American. It was born in the Appalachian mountains in the early 1800's and appears to be related to German, Scandinavian
and French folk instruments. A German folk instrument called the scheitholt is very similar to the mountain dulcimer and early
examples of both instruments have been found in the mountain communities of southwest Pennsylvania
(Mercer Museum, Doylestown, PA) and other Appalachian mountain states. Mountain dulcimers are also known as “lap” or “fretted” Dulcimers because they
are played resting in the player’s lap, and the three or four strings have frets like a modern guitar.
music played on mountain and hammered dulcimers is based in traditional American culture: the aurally transmitted fiddle tunes,
folk songs and sacred songs (gospel tunes, shape note hymns and spirituals) that were integral to work, play and worship before
the days of radio and gramophone. Thus, the PDC is engaged not only in encouraging
the spread and preservation of two traditional American instruments, but also the traditional music that graced the lives
of our ancestors.