As a teenager, I fell in love with the sound of the hammered dulcimer, and been going to dulcimer festivals since I was 21, but I assumed that mountain dulcimer couldn't be interesting because, after all, how much could you do with only 3 (or 4) strings? Then, in 2004, I became the founding chair of the Nutmeg Dulcimer Festival , and decided I should get to know the other side of the family.
Just as "The Folk" played the songs that were familiar to them, I played the songs that were familiar to me.
I've discovered that 3 strings actually are an advantage, rather than a handicap. I can do things on a 3-string dulcimer that I can't do on a 6-string guitar. I believe that dulcimers ought to be familiar to the general public, and widely used in popular forms of music, and I've posted several dozen videos on YouTube show the diverse things you can do with this instrument -- everything from folk to rock, country, bluegrass, opera, even tango. Two of those videos -- covers of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" on electric dulcimer, had the cosmic good fortune to go viral, and are among the most viewed mountain dulcimer videos on YouTube.
(By the way, for venues that can't allow ASCAP or BMI songs, I have plenty of public domain and original repertoire, too.)
Dulcimers are easier to learn than guitars, easier to tune, lighter weight, and less expensive. While guitars also are wonderful, I see dulcimers as a more logical entry-level instrument. I believe there should be millions of dulcimer players in this country.
My personal philosophy is this:
A. I like the ratio of 3 strings for my 5 fingers.
B. I chose to focus on one tuning, and learn it inside-out, rather than playing in multiple tunings.
C#. If a song requires a note I don't have, I'd rather add frets than adding strings or changing the tuning.
D. Any song is fair game.
I've performed and/or taught for many years at dulcimer festivals and a variety of folk venues around the Northeast, been on the faculty at Kentucky Music Week twice, and been featured at festivals as far away as Minnesota, Louisiana, and (though it wound up being held online due to Covid) California.
PS - My profile pic here is me playing a school gig here in Connecticut. Five lunch periods of elementary school kids. I can tell from the blindfold that I was playing "Pinball Wizard."
If everyone played dulcimers, we could all live in harmony.
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