or the Folk Music and Bluegrass WebRings
If You have arrived here via the Web Ring, you are at the homesite of Brian the Folksinger. You can either go to the main index page
to check out the whole story of my life, my music, my instruments, and my travels and adventures as a folksinger who 25 years ago took up the hammered dulcimer to replace the guitar and piano as my main accompaniment instrument, taking it in totally new directions from the traditional styles.
Or you may follow the links below to specifically reach the hammered dulcimer related pages of my site, my personal story of building hammered dulcimers and creating unique 5.5 octave accoustic and finally , the first solid-body electric hammered dulcimers.
HAMMERED DULCIMER BUILDER
THE ELECTRIC DULCIMER STORY
The Hammered Dulcimer is the oldest known stringed instrument, actually prehistoric. By the time history got started, hammered dulcimers had allready spread from China to Ireland, from the arctic to North Africa, and wore as many names: santur, zither, cannoon, goosli, chin, hackbrett, and more. It is neolithic, a product of bow and arrow technology, bowstrings stretched over a piece of wood, with a "bridge" both to hold the string up and control the note. The first dulcimers would have been single stringed, moving the one bridge to change the note. A group of people tapping in time, each with a stick on a tuned string, could create harmonies, like chanting and drumming mixed. Then someone had the idea to place several strings on one piece of wood, or the simple reality of drying a set of bowstrings. By adjusting the "bridges," they were able to create the harmonies they had experienced in a group.
By historic times, the dulcimer had ten to twenty courses
(10 to 20 notes), dual bridges (20 to 40 notes), often several strings
for each course, four (80 to 160 notes) or more. Much of understanding
of music developed from the dulcimer, as its essential structure and tuning
(D to A, A to E (above D), E to B (above A) ad in.) reveals the patterns
of harmonics, a spiral of fifths, containing scales, relative keys, even
the natural seventh. Every note, sharps and flats, can be derived from
this progression of fifths. The dulcimer inspired the invention of the
harp (and math, geometry, etc.) in Greek times, and later evolved into
the modern piano, still considered a percussion instrument.
It remained the common instrument throughout much of the world, including America, till very recently. It was easy to build, compared to a guitar, and that's what most people had to do if they wanted something. The old "fiddle tunes" are actually hammered dulcimer tunes that were adapted to the fiddle when it was invented. It is easy to see when you play them how the tunes evolved out of patterns that are natural on the dulcimer, not the fiddle. Modern fiddle tunes are often just the opposite. With the mass production of guitars and pianos, people moved to instruments that were easier to tune, or stayed in tune for more than five minutes. Yet some folks are still crazy enough to play the dulcimer. It is a percussion instrument, a tuned drum with 64 to 100 or more drumheads, all needing to be tuned constantly (but who's counting!). It is a resonating instrument, where the undamped strings keep ringing and resonating sympathetically with each new strike, creating a true "wall of sound." As peoplein America turned to other instruments, dulcimers became rarer and associated with the traditional instrumental music, celtic and appalachian, which it excelled at. The dulcimer experienced a resurgence in the 70's along with the renewed poplarity and commercial attention to traditional music and instruments, yet its suffered from that very association, as it became boxed into the status quo.
I was a singer who played piano and guitar, but also congas and marimbas, and my style was one that contained a rhythmic complexity and interplay between accompaniment and vocals. I was lucky to be exposed to the hammered dulcimer when I was 13, over thirty years ago, when I was already a performing vocalist in my own right. I thought the dulcimer had such a beautiful sound and potential that there had to be a way. Though I learned and played piano and guitar first, the idea stayed with me, and eventually I built my own. I soon redesigned the instrument, added multiple bridges to increase the range from the two and a half octaves of the standard modern dulcimer, to four and a half octaves, to over 5.5 octaves finally. The first thing I realized was I needed the wider and especially the lower ranges that compliment the human voice. That almost 25 years ago, now. Since then I've build alot of dulcimers, though I'm not a dulcimer builder, I just build my own and do a few more at the same time. Though with the invention of the electric dulcimer I have decided that I will have to be a dulcimer builder, now, to produce and possibly spread this unique instrument I have created.
Though I play the hammered dulcimer, I'm not a hammered dulcimer player; I'm really a singer who took up the dulcimer in place of guitar and piano. I play everything, from the oldest ballads to Pink Floyd and The Dead; I can rock, or sound "like angels." Each
dulcimer seems to have gotten bigger as I srove to achieve the range I needed to accompany vocals and modern music rather than play instrumental music as is traditional. Eventually I designed and built the first solid-body electric hammered dulcimers and and presently perform only using them. My present model has over a hundred strings and covers over 5.5 octaves in all keys. I have also been experimenting with midi-dulcimers. In my dreams I play a dulcimer that never needs to be tuned!
Though I play the hammered dulcimer, I'm not a hammered dulcimer player; I'm really a singer who took up the dulcimer in place of guitar and piano. I play everything, from the oldest ballads to Pink Floyd and The Dead; I can rock, or sound "like angels." Each dulcimer seems to have gotten bigger as I srove to achieve the range I needed to accompany vocals and modern music rather than play instrumental music as is traditional. Eventually I designed and built the first solid-body electric hammered dulcimers and and presently perform only using them. My present model has over a hundred strings and covers over 5.5 octaves in all keys. I have also been experimenting with midi-dulcimers. In my dreams I play a dulcimer that never needs to be tuned!