West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature

Hammered Dulcimer

The hammered dulcimer had a different origin than that of the lap dulcimer. It originated in the Middle East, probably in Persia and Arabia. The hammered dulcimer was reasonably common as a concert or parlor instrument in many areas, while the lap dulcimer was orginally known only in the isolated region of Appalachia.

The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoid-shaped wooden box, usually four-foot long, eighteen-inches wide, and four-foot thick. It is played by hitting sets or courses of strings with "beaters" or "hammers." The hammers are either flexible or stiff, light in weight, often padded with leather, wool, or cotton. They often look like canes.

The instrument has a trapezoid layout of eighteen or more strings. The strings pass over a bridge which divides each course of strings into unequal lengths. There are two to six strings per course tuned in unison. On each side of the bridge the pitch is different.

A larger dulcimer often has another set of strings, which provide bass notes, at the right side of the soundboard. In tuning the strings, there is an interval of a fifth across the bridge.

Sam Rizzetta is a well-known maker of the hammered dulcimer in the United States.

Listen to Sharon Hood play the hammered dulcimer.


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West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature is a self-contained teaching unit by Avis Caynor and Reneé Wyatt (1997), reprinted with permission in 2003 in the larger web site AppLit.

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