The hammered dulcimer, which comes in various sizes, has strings that are attached to a wooden base that is in a trapezoidal shape. The strings are struck with hammers that come in varying shapes and sizes as well. Because the strings are struck, hammered dulcimers are a member of the percussion family.
|Hammered Dulcimer by Rick Thum|
Interestingly, the hammered dulcimer can be found around the world under different names. In Hungary it is called a cimbalom, Germany a Hackbrett, China a yangqin, Italy a salterio, Iraq a santur. etc. A full list of names can be found on Wikipedia.
It is usually strung in pairs of strings, although there are dulcimers with 3 strings on every pitch. There are 2 bridges, a base and a treble bridge. Confusing to former pianists (like me) the base strings are to the right and the treble strings are to the left as you sit at the instrument. This is the opposite of a piano.
I first encountered a hammered dulcimer at a Renaissance Faire in northern Illinois, and fell in love with it. The following Christmas, my husband surprised me with one as a Christmas gift. I played around with it and basically taught myself to play the way most folk instruments are learned. However, once I retired I had the time to dedicate myself to learning to play it well. Last summer I played hammered dulcimer at the Door County Renaissance Faire, taking development on the instrument full circle.
While the HD has been used in traditional classical settings from time to time, today you find the instrument more in folk situations. Here are some links to follow and some excellent players to listen to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGosb3ZxxvQ Notice that Ken Kolodner is getting a muted sound on his instrument. This is because he is using a pedal damping system operated by his left foot. The next link is Rick Thum performing Pleasure House Rag: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dyXvBVi9k0 . Finally, listen to Bill Robinson play 12th Street Rag. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KHOPYfyU90