America’s Oldest Folk Instrument

Posted by | January 25, 2007

“The Mountain dulcimer, also known as the Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer, or fretted dulcimer, is basically a fretted zither which was derived from the German shieltholt.

“The word dulcimer is believed to have originated centuries ago. It was derived, it is thought, from the greek word “dulce” (which means sweet) and the Latin word “melos” (which means song). The Appalachian Dulcimer is not to be confused with its biblical counterpart, the hammered dulcimer; rather in its current incarnation, it is believed to have evolved from a northern European instrument, the German scheitholt which like the Appalachian Dulcimer is played with a bow and plucked or strummed as well.

“The instrument is found in many European cultures in various forms. In each of these countries the instrument took on local characteristics. It is believed that the scheitholt made it to Appalachia toward the end of the 18th century, and once again evolved and was modified to suit the needs of the local players.

“It is commonly thought that the Appalachian dulcimer was widely used throughout the mountains and hollows of the Appalachian area. The experts believe that in its heyday and prior to its recent reintroduction to folk music, there were perhaps as few as 1,000 dulcimers throughout the whole region. There are as many shapes and styles of dulcimers as there are players and mountain craftsmen. Except for adhering to a few basic conventions, the builder was free to explore options and possibilities in the creation of the dulcimer.”

Anthony J Huvard, luthier

One Response

  • Karen Diercks says:

    I live in Marion County WV and the dulcimer is still played at Pricket’s Fort and other community festivals.

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