The dulcimer is a classic, portable, inexpensive instrument that is fun and rewarding to learn for novice musicians and experts alike. The dulcimer contains only four strings, and standard Ionian tuning has three of the strings tuned to the same note. This makes it easy for beginners to jump right in and start making music.
Preparing Your Dulcimer
First, it’s important that you hold the dulcimer in a way that is comfortable. There is no right or wrong way to hold a dulcimer, as long as you aren’t fatigued. However, there are a couple of general tips that will keep you comfortable. Sit in an armless chair, with the dulcimer placed flat on your lap and have your forearm positioned so that strumming will occur in a straight motion away from your torso. If the dulcimer feels like it wants to slide off of your lap, consider using a footstool.
Next, you’ll want to purchase a pick and possibly a noter for your dulcimer. A good pick will be large and easy to hold, while being thin enough to offer low strumming resistance. A noter will essentially work like a guitar slide, fretting multiple strings at once. This can be a good tool for beginning dulcimer players. Be sure that your dulcimer is in tune. The dulcimer contains four strings, tuned to D, A, A, A. The lowest string of the dulcimer will provide the bass, and is tuned to D. Consider purchasing an electronic tuner.
Strumming Your Dulcimer
It’s now time to start strumming some basic chord progressions on your dulcimer. Learn a simple chord progression, such as D, G, A. This will be fairly easy to fret. Practice strumming each chord individually, in a steady time signature such as 4/4 time. Count to yourself as you play each chord. Play the chords by themselves until you can develop a steady rhythm and find the next chord. If you’re having trouble, try tapping your foot as you play, or consider purchasing a metronome that will click a steady rhythm. If done correctly, your dulcimer will make a familiar chord progression that you can sing along too.
As you progress, you’ll find that faster rhythms are difficult to play using only upstrokes, or strokes directed away from your body. Like a guitar player, you can increase your speed and rhythmic precision by alternating upstrokes with down strokes, or strums directed toward you body. Different types of strokes will usually be indicated on dulcimer sheet music with a D or U.
Try to find some easy dulcimer sheet music and slowly work through it. Feel free to play at a slower pace than what is indicated on the music. Practicing a piece slowly will help to build accuracy and rhythmic timing before you master a song.