How to Play Appalachian Dulcimer

By Contributor ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Appalachian dulcimer
  • Guitar tuner
  • Guitar pick
Play Appalachian Dulcimer

How to Play Appalachian Dulcimer. The Appalachian Dulcimer originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and is handcrafted from wood. It has an hourglass shape with three or four strings. Here are some steps to help you learn how to play a Appalachian Dulcimer.

Tune the dulcimer. There are about 10 different tuning combinations, but most dulcimer music is written in DAA and DAD. Turn the tuning peg to release the bass string until it is floppy. Use a guitar tuner while you tighten the tuning peg and pick the string until the tuner registers D.

Loosen the middle tuning peg until the string flops. Use the guitar tuner while you tighten the tuning peg and pick the string until the guitar tuner registers A. Repeat for the last string.

Choose a pick. Most people us a guitar pick, which come in many different sizes and colors. Experiment with different picks until you find the one that's right for you.

Use the pick to help figure out your strumming technique. There are 2 directions in which to strum. Away from you is called out-strum and toward you is called in-strum. Practice each strum technique to find out which one you're more comfortable with. Some songs include both techniques.

Get sheet music. Dulcimer sheet music has 3 lines called tabulation or "tab" for short. The lines stand for the three strings on the dulcimer, but if your dulcimer has four strings, the two bottom strings are played together. The bottom line of tabulation stands for the bottom string or strings, the middle line stands for the middle string and the top line stands for the top string.

Learn where to place your fingers on the fret. The tabulation has numbers written above the line to tell you where on the string to press while strumming. 0 means to strum without pressing down a string. There's a small space on the fret after 6, which is 6 1/2.

Set aside time each day to practice. To get better at anything you want to learn to do, you need to practice.


A piano or pitch pipe can be used to tune the dulcimer.

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