What's the exact difference between a dulcimore and dulcimer

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
one week ago
796 posts

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between a dulcimore and a dulcimer. They are different names for the same instrument. C.N. Prichard call the instruments he manufactured "The American Dulcimer." J. E. Thomas called the instrument he made a dulcimer. As to where the name originated, it is anybody's guess. One theory is that mountaineers familiar with the King James Bible new the list of instruments in Daniel. One instrument on that list was dulcimer. Since no one knew what a dulcimer was, they adopted the name for their instrument. (Biblical scholars think the instrument called "dulcimer" is really a reed instrument like a clarinet.) Strumelia already mention that the name may have derived from the Latin for sweet (dulce) and the Greek for sound or song (Melos). Who knows for sure? Pretty much all of the early scholarly literature and much of popular literature refers to the instrument as "dulcimer."

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one week ago
1,846 posts

"Dulce melos" is French with Greek/Latin roots, meaning "sweet song".  There was an old key-hammered zither called a dulce-melos or douchmelle in the 15th century.  

IIRC, "dulcimer" came to prominence in the King James Bible translation where it was incorrectly used as a term for a wind instrument. Also found (again mis-used) in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan -- "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree...

   A damsel with a dulcimer

   In a vision once I saw:

   It was an Abyssinian maid

   And on her dulcimer she played,

   Singing of Mount Abora."

Dan Cox has been the leader in assigning the term dulcimore (I spell it dulcemore just to be contrary) to those Appalachian fretted zithers built originally prior to the Dulcimer Revival -- in particular those instruments detailed in L. Allen Smith's  landmark thesis and book A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers

John C. Knopf
John C. Knopf
@john-c-knopf
one week ago
275 posts

Hear, hear!  Bravo, Dan!

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one week ago
2,001 posts

Corvus:

From the pictures I've seen they both seem to be extremely similar indeed. Do you know who invented the word dulcimore, and who invented the word dulcimer?

The Latin root 'dulci' means sweet. Nobody knows who exactly invented the words dulcimer or dulcimore. It goes far back in time, to medieval references to hammered dulcimers. 'Dulcimore' is simply one of various old fashioned variations of names for the same or similar instruments.

Dan:Don't know there is any thing exact in the tradition. Some (I included) use the term Dulcimore to differentiate the traditional  pieces from the contemporary pieces. "Dulcimore" was just one of several regional names assigned to an Appalachian folk instrument some 150 year ago? Hog fiddle, scantlin', music box, harmonium to name a few, and those had varying regional mountain pronunciations too!

Right, Dan! So many quaint old names for mountain dulcimers were in use years ago in the US.   Indian walking stick, dulcerine, duck slammer, even sometimes just called a Music Box.
I first noticed the particular name 'dulcimore' being used much more frequently by Dan Cox just a few years ago. Before that (for the 30 years i have studied and discussed dulcimers), we all simply talked about 'traditional mountain dulcimers' and 'modern dulcimers'. 'Dulcimore' rarely came up except in online conversations where we were listing quaint old fashioned historic or regional names for our instrument.
Whether Dan intended it or not, I consider him to have spearheaded a movement where now it seems to be pretty much standard procedure to refer to traditional mountain dulcimers as 'dulcimores'.  Since it's handy to use as a shorter name than constantly saying or writing 'traditional dulcimer', and has a lilting quality, I'm all for making things simpler when discussing our favorite instrument.  But I do think that Dan deserves the credit for 'reviving' the name 'dulcimore' into now common usage and understanding.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one week ago
1,846 posts

IMHO  Makeshift instruments are one thing, and Traditional instruments, particularly dulcimers/mores another thing entirely.

Nothing wrong with makeshift -- "necessity is the mother of invention", after all.  That's how instruments were invented -- plucking rhythms on an archer's bow string is the ancestor of all stringed instruments, hollow logs the ancestor of drums, rocks or sticks clicked together the ancestor of all rhythm instruments.  Makeshift or improvisational music making is a multi-thousand year old tradition in it's own right.

Traditional, in the dulcimer sense, is a specific definable set of characteristics which separate pre-1960 instruments from later ones --  in particular how the dulcimer has changed in the past 50+ years.

The Ozarks have at least one Traditional dulcimore -- the so-called Indian or Ozark Walking Stick or Cane --  which can be more or less described as a narrow teardrop shape with sharp corners at the widest part of the bout rather than curves.  Some describe it as a Coffin shape.  That instrument was invented as a specific design by John Mowhee (or Mawhee) back during the Civil War.  Like other instruments of the era it has the same characteristics as other Traditional dulcimores.

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@natebuildstoys
one week ago
71 posts

On the topic of defining a trad dulcimer vs a contemporary one, my early experiences with dulcimers long before I started playing or building were those that old timers out in the Ozarks played. These were very folksy instruments made out of all kinds of creative materials. I was led to believe that this followed a tradition of makeshift instruments built by their ancestors out of a necessity for music. All instruments from fiddles to banjos to basses to guitars were built this way. Fence staples or fishing line, broom wire/tie wire, old posts/stakes and recycled boxes or random pots, pans, and cans.

I have definitely noticed that those who follow all sorts of different traditional designs tend to prefer alternate terms to 'dulcimer' which seem to imply that the instrument will have a style that is in some way or another not like a contemporary dulcimer. The oldest dulcimers I have personally seen in the Ozarks are very improvised, which I assumed to be characteristic of early dulcimers.
For what its worth, call it a fretted plucked box zither or a hog fiddle, but Ive always enjoyed the Jerry Rockwell coining of a 'musical possibility box.' Still I'd wonder if the dulcimers I make, which are in the style of my somewhat trashy ancestors who loved up-cycling, would be considered traditional by others. It does follow a very old musical tradition, but perhaps not the one most closely related with dulcimer specifically.

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
one week ago
24 posts

I'm going to start telling people I play the Fence Scorpion.  kittywink

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
one month ago
147 posts

Here's another for your list, Dusty: Stringed Bagpipe

Tumbleweed
Tumbleweed
@tumbleweed
one month ago
27 posts

Read the list.

My favorites are

Hog Fiddle and Harmony Box

Steven Berger
Steven Berger
@steven-berger
2 months ago
147 posts

Duckslammer, fence scorpion, waterswivel....my new favorites!...I especially like duckslammer! Thanks, Dusty!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,472 posts

In the folk tradition, we generally agree that isolating "who" originally did something is pretty tough indeed.  Instead we talk about different regional traditions that developed over time. As @dan and @ken-hulme have explained, today, people sometimes use the term "dulcimore" to refer to traditional, pre-revival (1940s) instruments or replicas of those instruments.

Just for kicks, a few years ago I collected the attached list of the various names that have been given to our beloved instrument.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 06/13/21 10:36:40PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 months ago
1,846 posts

"Exact" is such a hard word!   As Dan sez, back in the day there was no standard spelling for dulcimer/dulcimore/dulcemore, and there were numerous regional names for the instrument as well. 

Today many of us use the dulcimore/dulcemore spelling to distinguish instruments made in a more traditional, less modern way.  Our "bible" as it were is L. Allen Smith's landmark book Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers.  Hundreds of traditional designs to replicate or emulate.

Here are a few characteristics which a number of us use to distinguish between a modern and traditional "dulcimer".

  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments have partial width staple frets, not full-width modern 'mushroom' frets.
  • Traditional instruments use woods native to the Eastern US (notablyu polar) ,  not the Western US or 'exotic' woods
  • With few exceptions, Traditional instruments do not have mechanical tuners; they use violin type tuners or autoharp type tuning pins
  • Traditional instruments have purely diatonic fret layouts -- no "plus" frets at all,
  • Traditional instruments have full-length fretboards.
  • Traditional instruments have no wound strings
  • Traditional instruments almost always have overhanging 'fiddle edges' rather than flush top/side joints
  • Traditional instruments were almost invariably played in the Noter & Drone or Fingerdancing styles, without fingerpicking, three-finger chords, or DAd tuning (unless the song absolutely required Mixolydian tuning).
  • The most common tunings seem to have been Unison (all strings the same gauge and same high note -- d-d-d) or Bagpipe (middle and melody strings an octave higher than the bass string D-d-d), with 1-5-5 tunings a close third. 

updated by @ken-hulme: 06/13/21 01:37:43PM
Dan
Dan
@dan
2 months ago
137 posts

Don't know there is any thing exact in the tradition. Some (I included) use the term Dulcimore to differentiate the traditional  pieces from the contemporary pieces. "Dulcimore" was just one of several regional names assigned to an Appalachian folk instrument some 150 year ago? Hog fiddle, scantlin', music box, harmonium to name a few, and those had varying regional mountain pronunciations too! There will be several sages to enlighten you to the origins of the terms!

You might be better suited to ask the difference between the traditional piece and a contemporary?


updated by @dan: 06/13/21 12:55:59PM
Corvus
Corvus
@corvus
2 months ago
11 posts

From the pictures I've seen they both seem to be extremely similar indeed. Do you know who invented the word dulcimore, and who invented the word dulcimer?