Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The dulcimer

This steel-strung dulcimer has to be one of the most popular instruments I have ever taken into a school. It's a sure-fire hit with both children and teachers. It can be sourced from Hawkins Bazaar in the UK where they give it the less than specific name of 'music maker'. Mine says it is a zitabo and was made in China. I notice the new ones are called cymbalas and appear to come from Russia. The build specifications of the new model appear to be identical to those of my own and the writing on the box assures me that it meets European Union and American safety standards.

It really does have a beautiful sound. It is also fairly robust and the plywood sound box is unlikely to get broken. I have had two strings broken in two years of taking it to sessions. On each occasion it was when a child tried to extract too much volume. I no longer include it in the 'let's all explore the instruments at once' sessions that I still, against my better judgement, find myself involved in from time to time. Fortunately it comes with two spare strings. After that I am confident that guitar strings could be pressed into service.

Along with the spare strings, there are two plectrums (or plectra if you prefer), some rubber feet and, most importantly, a tuning key. I have never stuck on the rubber feet and this means I can teach the children about the damping or enhancing effects of playing the instrument on different surfaces. The tuning fork allows the instrument to be tuned to suit the occasion. Mine is tuned to E Major but many other scales suit it very well. I particularly like a pentatonic scale that, in Norfolk at least, passes for Japanese. This goes EFABCE.

Actually, the tuning on mine is wayward having just had two strings replaced as well as a hammering from various workshops. Tuning is a challenge as a very slight tweak with the key will make a great difference to the pitch. The new strings, one of which broke unexpectedly, keep slipping but this is probably to be expected. All the guitarists I know suffer from this problem when they change their strings. But it has a wonderful tone and natural reverb and it is these that make it a winner.

Finally there is some sheet music, written like none other I have ever seen, and some tuning tips and re-stringing instructions.

At just under £20 (pounds sterling) it is exceptionally good value. I have no idea what sort of working conditions are enjoyed by the people who make these instruments but console myself with the knowledge that they must be better off than the poor folk working in the firework factory down the street.

&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_4">lt</span>;a <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_5">href</span>="http://miraclemen.bandcamp.com/track/dulcimer-demo">Dulcimer demo by The Miracle Men&<span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_6">lt</span>;/a>

1 comment:

  1. They do make a lovely sound, don't they? I have some recordings of a hammered dulcimer played as part of a folk group.