Appalachian Dulcimer

Name: Appalachian Dulcimer
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Box > Fretted
Hornbostel-Sachs No#:
Area: Southern Appalachian Mountains
Country: United States
Region: North America

Description: The Appalachian Dulcimer or lap dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, Kentucky dulcimer or plucked dulcimer. Variant names include ‘delcumur’, ‘dulcymore’, ‘harmonium’, ‘hog fiddle’, ‘musical box’ and ‘harmony box’. The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted box zither that is traditional to the Southern Appalachian Mountains of the SouthEastern USA. Long found only in scattered pockets of tradition, the dulcimer has since the 1950s gained popularity outside of the mountains.

Origins: The Appalachian dulcimer first appeared in the 19th century among Scotch-Irish immigrant communities in the Appalachian mountains. The Appalachian dulcimer has no known president in Ireland, Scotland or Northern England.

The dulcimer developed in the Shenandoah River Valley region of Southwestern Pennsylvania through the blending of British predominantly Scottish musical traditions from those of other immigrants, who brought with them the German zithers. The organological development of the Appalachian dulcimer divides into three periods. The transitional period from the 1700s to 1800s. The second traditional period from the 1800s to 1940. The third period emerged during the 1950; the popularity of the instrument increased as the Appalachian dulcimer spread outwards from its heartland. 

Construction: The most recognizable design of the Appalachian dulcimer is a hourglass shaped zither, having three to four strings raised over a fingerboard. Fret installation is often done in a diatonic arrangement lacking chromatic intervals (single or more tones). Some newer custom instruments feature either two chromatic frets allowing for the playing of flat and sharp notes or fully chromatic fretboards. Stringing arrangements are also present with the Appalachian dulcimer the first being the Virginia model D’d / Aa / Dd the first double strings are tuned an octave apart. The Ozark configuration having all four strings as individual strings D / A / D / D.

Citations: Bibliography: Long, Lucy M. 2001 “Appalachian dulcimer”. In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5 ; Randel, D. M. (ed.); The New Harvard Dictionary of Music; Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1986 ; Appalachian Dulcimer; Hummel; Langeleik; Scheitholt; and Zither (III) Websites: