"The mountaineer 'follers (follows) pickin' it' by means of a quill".
What examples do you use to explain what a dulcimer is?
The ‘dulcimore’ is a unique survival of antique musical instruments, and needs explanation. It is oblong, about thirty-four inches in length, with a width at its greatest of about six inches, becoming smaller at each end. Three strings reach from tip to tip, the first and second ones tuned to the same pitch, and the third one forms the bass string. Two octaves and a quarter are marked out upon the three-quarters of an inch piece of wood that supports, and is just under the strings on the top of the instrument. The Mountaineer “toilers pickin'” it by means of a quill, with which he strikes the three strings at the same time with his right hand, over the gap at the larger end, at the same time using in his left hand a small reed with which he produces the air, or his “single string variations.” The music of the dulcimore resembles that of the Scottish bag pipe, in that it is weird and strange. Under its spell one finds himself mysteriously holding communion with the gossamer-like manes of the long-departed souls of the palace of Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. The dulcimore is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, because the Mountaineers are becoming ashamed’ of the musical instrument that stands, with many other things, on the dividing line between two civilizations. Only a few of them are extant. Within a few more years and this strange old relic of by-gone days will pass…..
The Kentucky Highlanders from a Native Mountaineer’s Viewpoint
by Josiah Henry Combs
J. L. Richardson and Co.
Lexington, KY 1913
...hope this helps!
"Dulce" is Latin and Spanish for sweet and "melos" is Greek for tune -- "melodìa" in Spanish. If I were going to make up a Spanish word for dulcimer I think it would be dulce-melodia . Zither is "cìtara" -- a guitar with no neck and a small body.
You could always get a tattoo of a dulcimer and say "See this..."!!!
I always carry a pencil, and paper is usually available, and do a rough sketch [for a lot of things]. I would say to most folks that it sounds something like the more treble side of an acoustic guitar [sorry about that ] with less volume and sustain, because that's probably what most can relate to.
I definitely do a very poor job at this when asked. A big factor in explaining it is the level of knowledge the person you are talking to has about musical instruments. I've found that double melody strings are especially hard for non musical people to grasp even when you show them visually how the strings play the same note and are fretted together. I think at the end of the day if people are really interested and you don't have one to show them you should encourage them to look into it, because every time I've ever shown one to someone they are always very surprised when they hear it. The disarmingly simple design of so few strings and so few frets leaves people blown away by the ease at which you can produce beautiful melodies. It really defies most people's expectations and talking about it really doesn't do it justice.
By the way, if you were not aware, the word dulcimer is a portmanteau of the latin word 'dulce' for sweet and the greek word 'melos' for song
You raise a good question. Since you do not always have audiovisual tools at hand perhaps, perhaps a 50 mm x 75 mm picture or photo laminated in plastic you could carry on your person. You might could do front and back, one side the dulcimer the other side someone seated playing it.
As for sound, you have discovered that the dulcimer is capable of many voices. To me its sweetest voice is on a slower song. Perhaps a dulcimer sound clip of a slower melodic song well known to the people of Spain could be loaded to your phone to share the sound that way.
It is likely that many of you will not encounter this problem, but as I mentioned, the dulcimer is unknown in Spain.
I add as a curiosity that "sweet" in Spanish it's said "dulce", so when I say that I play the dulcimer they think something like "sweetwhat?!"
Usually I have a cell phone or a computer at hand, you can show pictures or play videos (that would give for another discussion: "what videos do you play to show how the dulcimer sounds", but I will raise that question another day), but sometimes I don't have at hand any audiovisual example to show what it is and how it sounds.
Then I have to explain what it is and how it sounds. Explaining what it looks like (apart from the different shapes and materials) is easier, what it looks like, how it plays.... (I usually make the joke of "I'm so lazy I wanted an instrument to play sitting down"), but to give you an idea I look for examples of songs, but it's difficult.
If I mention Jean Ritchie, they don't know her (I confess I didn't know her either until I started playing), curiously very few people know Joni Mitchell, which really surprises me.... I usually mention "Lady Jane" by the Rolling Stones, but a lot of people don't know that song...
So, what examples could I use to explain to people what a dulcimer is?