A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Dulcimer
DULCIMER (Fr. Tympanon; Ital. Cembalo, Timpanon, Salterio tedesco; Germ. Hachbrett). The prototype of the pianoforte, as the psaltery was of the harpsichord. These instruments were so nearly alike that one description might serve for both, were it not for the different manner of playing them, the strings of the dulcimer being set in vibration by small hammers held in the hands, while in the psaltery the sounds were produced by plectra of ivory, metal, or quill, or even the fingers of the performer. It is also no less desirable to separate in description instruments so nearly resembling each other, on account of their ultimate development into the harpsichord and pianoforte by the addition of keys. [See Harpsichord, and Pianoforte.]
Dr. Rimbault (Pianoforte, p. 23) derives dulcimer from 'dulce melos.' Perhaps the 'dulce,'—also used in the old English 'dulsate' and 'dulsacordis,' unknown instruments unless dulcimers—arose from the ability the player had to produce sweet sounds with the softer covered ends of the hammers, just as 'piano' in pianoforte suggests a similar attribute. The Italian 'Salterio tedesco' implies a German derivation for this hammer-psaltery. [See also Cembalo.] The roughness of description used by mediæval Italians in naming one form of psaltery 'strumento di porco,' pig's head, was adopted by the Germans in their faithful translation 'Schweinskopf,' and in naming a dulcimer 'Hackbrett'—a butcher's board for chopping sausage-meat.
The dulcimer is a trapeze-shaped instrument of not more than three feet in greatest width, composed of a wooden framing enclosing a wrest-plank for the tuning-pins, round which the strings are wound at one end; a soundboard ornamented with two or more sound-holes and carrying two bridges between which are the lengths of wire intended to vibrate; and a hitchpin-block for the attachment of the other ends of the strings. Two, three, four, and sometimes five strings of fine brass or iron wire are grouped for each note. [App. p.619 "English dulcimers have ten long notes of brass wire in unison strings, four or five in number, and ten shorter notes of the same. The first series, struck with hammers to the left of the right-hand bridge, is tuned
the F being natural. The second series, struck to the right of the left-hand bridge, is
the F being again natural. The remainder of the latter series, struck to the left of the left-hand bridge, gives
[ A. J. H. ]