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How to Play the Dulcimer

Updated on October 13, 2014

So You Want to Play the Dulcimer

The mountain dulcimer is a fun instrument to learn to play. With only 3 or 4 strings, it is not a difficult instrument to learn. With some basic instruction and a little practice you will be able to accompany some simple songs with the chords of D, G and A. From there you can branch out to bigger and better things, such as fingerpicking and arpeggiate chords.

I learned how to play the dulcimer from my mother, who taught me some fundamentals. From there I was able to sit down and figure out different things. I was a young teenager when I first played this instrument.

You can have a great time playing the mountain dulcimer after only a few introductory lessons and then build on what you have learned.

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How to Play the Dulcimer - Instructional DVDs and Books

If you want to teach yourself how to play the dulcimer, or pick up some tips and tricks, there are some excellent introductory DVDs and instructional books out. You might want to pick up one or two, especially when you are first starting out. Of course, there is always more to learn. Even the experts are still learning from each other!

Mel Bay's  You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer
Mel Bay's You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer

Honestly, I am not familiar with this book; but, it comes highly recommended by beginning students. It is for this reason that I am suggesting it as a good book to help you get started with this instrument.


The Dulcimer Book

I remember my mother having this book when I was a child. My father had given her a dulcimer, and she was learning to play. As I recall, it is full of the traditional Appalachian folk music, for which Jean Ritchie is famous.

This book has stood the test of time. I don't think you can go wrong with this one, so I enthusiastically recommend it.

How to Play the Dulcimer - Instructional Video

Here is a basic introduction for playing the mountain dulcimer. I think this gentleman breaks it down very simply and by following his instructions you can begin playing some simple tunes right away. If you have a dulcimer already, give it a try! If you do not have a dulcimer, you can buy one very similar to his pretty cheaply. Check the link below the video for more information on how to buy a Simplicity dulcimer!

Mountain Dulcimer Poll

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3-String Simplicity Dulcimer
3-String Simplicity Dulcimer

A good quality mountain dulcimer for a beginning student at a low price.


Buy a Simplicity Dulcimer - A Good Basic Mountain Dulcimer for a Beginning Student

If you are just learning to play the dulcimer and are not ready to make a commitment to a handmade instrument, you should consider this Simplicity dulcimer. The sound box of this instrument is made of cardboard, but produces a remarkable sound which is much better than a cheap, plywood dulcimer. I have had the opportunity to play one of these dulcimers, and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality.

You can check it out in the video above. It looks like the instructor is playing a Simplicity which has been decorated with some additional stencils on the sound box.

Of course, an instrument like this cannot compare to a high quality dulcimer, but a handmade dulcimer made from quality wood can cost from $400 on up to over $1,000. With the Simplicity, you can get started with the dulcimer for well under $100. So what are you waiting for?!

How to Tune the Mountain Dulcimer

If you need some help tuning your mountain dulcimer, this video gives a good explanation for how to tune to an ionian scale of D-A-A. This is one basic way to tune your dulcimer.

Many instructors use mixolydian D-A-D tuning, but D-A-A is perfectly acceptable and is an easy way for you to get started playing your dulcimer right away. Give it a try!

Tune Your Mountain Dulcimer - Tuning Accessories for the Dulcimer

You can tune your instrument by ear; but, if you want to tune your dulcimer more accurately, you will probably want to invest in an chromatic tuner which clips onto the head of your instrument.

Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner
Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner

The Snark tuners are best sellers and quite affordable. I recommend purchasing one unless you are comfortable tuning by ear.


More Details on Tuning Your Mountain Dulcimer - Learning How to Tune the Dulcimer

For more details about tuning your dulcimer, check out the link below.

An Easy to Understand Lesson Series on the Mountain Dulcimer - How to Play the Dulcimer

If you want a more detailed and easy-to-understand lesson series for learning to play the mountain dulcimer, check out this video series. This instructor takes you step-by-step over the basics of playing the instrument. This is a great way to get started, especially if you have not had much exposure to the instrument in the past.

This teacher also uses the Simplicity dulcimer that I spotlighted above. Be sure and check that out if you need a basic dulcimer for getting started learning how to play. The Simplicity dulcimer is a good instrument for a beginner or someone who is not sure if they are going to like playing the dulcimer, or just for someone who wants to get started fast without a big financial investment. This dulcimer is considerably less than $100 compared to a good quality dulcimer which costs $400 and up. The Simplicity gets a surprisingly good sound, considering that the sound box is constructed of cardboard!

How to Play the Dulcimer Poll

I would like some feedback on this lens. I want to make it helpful to my readers. Please let me know if this lens has helped you find the information you needed to learn to play the dulcimer.

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Please let me know if you found the information in this lens helpful or not in learning how to play the dulcimer. Is there something I should add? Something that needs to be clarified or explained more carefully?

© 2011 Frischy

Comments About How to Play the Dulcimer

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    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 

      6 years ago from UK

      I play guitar and muck about with a keyboard. I would be interested in this instrument but time would stop me getting involved. A very interesting and informative lens.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I have found the Mel Bay instruction books to be very simple for those learning to play an instrument. I've never tried a dulcimer.

    • Winter52 LM profile image

      Winter52 LM 

      6 years ago

      I have never heard of one either. Everyone in the family seems to be musical but me... I wonder how difficult it would be to master?

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 

      6 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      My brother-in-law plays the dulcimer -- I love it :)

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I can't even play chopsticks on the piano, but MAYBE I could learn to play the Dulcimer. :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I have a friend who plays the Dulcimer and I will be sharing this with her. I am not very musically inclined but do appreciate and enjoy music.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I had never heard of a Dulcimer so this lens was very interesting to me. Musical instruments would have been made from whatever items were available it seems.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      I've always loved listening to a dulcimer. Folk music is my favorite kind of music.


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