The American Santoor




The santoor,the trapezoid shaped wooden soundbox
with approx 100 strings andplayed with wooden hammers,
mallets or kalams has a unique global history spreading his traces
all around the globe in approx 5000 years.
This history by itself,as far as scfientifically recorded
is a genuine example of cultural history by it,s own.

The sound of this instrument is rich by overtones and subtle
overlays of echoed multifrequency
sound shapes.It can be played
as a staccato instrument as well as reproducing fine exact melody
types of folk as  well as classic music up to
renderings of J. S. Bach for example.

One should notice that the use of the santoor in the upper regions of classical
instrumental music, ther Indian Ragas ,the Instrument from Kashmir
culture has entered the global stage of classical music,
introducing for the 1st time ever the use
of Kashmiri Santoor in the highly elaborated field of Classic Music.
A revolution in the history of Music from India !

The metaphysical shading of the sound is relative to the cultural regions
where this instrument was used and cultivated.

The most deep and oldest types of metaphysical canons and scriptures
can be found in Indo-arabic and chinese cultural heritage.
Therefore it,s easy to see that in those music cultures reflect one of the deepest approaches
in the field of serious music of mankind  has ever been done and still continueing
to our present time.

(R51 Ed.)


The Hammered Dulcimer of America

The hammered dulcimer is a stringed musical instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board. Typically, the hammered dulcimer is set on a stand, at an angle, before the musician, who holds small mallet hammers in each hand to strike the strings (cf. Appalachian dulcimer). The Graeco-Roman dulcimer (sweet song) derives from the Latin dulcis(sweet) and the Greek melos (song). The dulcimer’s origin is uncertain, but tradition holds it was invented in Mesopotamia, as theIranian Santur or persian Santur some 2000 years ago.

Various types of hammered dulcimers are traditionally played in India, Southwest Asia, China, and parts of Southeast Asia, Central Europe (Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, Switzerland (particularly Appenzell), Austria and Bavaria), the Balkans, Eastern Europe (Ukraine and Belarus) and Scandinavia. The instrument is also played in Great Britain (Wales, East Anglia, Northumbria) and the U.S., where its traditional use in folk music saw a notable revival in the late 20th Century.

Strings and tuning

The hammered dulcimer comes in various sizes, identified by the number of strings that cross each of the bridges. A 15/14, for example, has two bridges (treble and bass) and spans three octaves. The strings of a hammered dulcimer are usually found in pairs, two strings for each note (though some instruments have three or four strings per note). Each set of strings is tuned in unison and is called a course. As with a piano, the purpose of using multiple strings per course is to make the instrument louder, although as the courses are rarely in perfect unison, a chorus effect usually results like a mandolin. A hammered dulcimer, like an autoharp, harp, or piano, requires a tuning wrench for tuning, since the dulcimer’s strings are wound around tuning pins with square heads. (Ordinarily, 5 mm “zither pins” are used, similar to, but smaller in diameter than piano tuning pins, which come in various sizes ranging upwards from “1/0″ or 7 mm.)

This shift to the adjacent bridge is required because the bass bridge’s fourth string G is the start of the lower tetrachord of the G scale. If the player ascends the first eight strings of the bass bridge, they will encounter a flatted seventh (C natural in this case), because this note is drawn from the G tetrachord. This D major scale with a flatted seventh is the mixolydian mode in D.

The pattern continues to the top of the instrument and to the left-hand side of the treble bridge. Moving from the left side of the bass bridge to the right side of the treble bridge is analogous to moving from the right side of the treble bridge to the left side of the treble bridge.

This diatonically-based tuning results in most, but not all, notes of the chromatic scale being available. To fill in the gaps, many modern dulcimer builders include extra short bridges at the top and bottom of the soundboard, where extra strings are tuned to some or all of the missing pitches. Such instruments are often called “chromatic dulcimers” as opposed to the more traditional “diatonic dulcimers”.

In the Alps are also chromatic dulcimers with crossed strings, which are in a whole tone distance in every row.

Hammered dulcimers of non-European descent may have other tuning patterns, and builders of European-style dulcimers sometimes experiment with alternate tuning patterns.


The hammered dulcimer derives its name from the small mallets that players use to strike the strings, called hammers. Hammers are usually made of wood (most likely hard woods such as maple, cherry, padauk, oak, walnut, or any other hard wood), but can also be made from any material, including metal and plastic. In the Western hemisphere, hammers are usually stiff, but in Asia, flexible hammers are often used. The head of the hammer can be left bare for a sharp attack sound, or can be covered with adhesive tape, leather, or fabric for a softer sound. In the studio, for example, percussion legend Emil Richards used mallets made of wood that had a curve in which to place the fingers, sometimes wrapping cotton or silk string around the beating end to soften the sound. Two-sided hammers are also available. The heads of two sided hammers are usually oval or round. Most of the time, one side is left as bare wood while the other side may be covered in leather or a softer material such as piano felt.

Several traditional players have used hammers that differ substantially from those in common use today. Paul Van Arsdale (b. 1920), a player from upstate New York, uses flexible hammers made from hacksaw blades, with leather-covered wooden blocks attached to the ends (these are modeled after the hammers used by his grandfather, Jesse Martin). The Irish player John Rea (1915–1983) used hammers made of thick steel wire, wound with wool. He made these himself from old bicycle spokes. Billy Bennington (1900–1986), a player from Norfolk in England, used cane hammers bound with wool.

Hammered dulcimers, psalteries, pianos and harpsichords

The hammered dulcimer was extensively used during the Middle Ages in England, France, Italy, Germany, Holland and Spain. Although it had a distinctive name in each country, it was everywhere regarded as a kind of psalterium. The importance of the method of setting the strings in vibration by means of hammers, and its bearing on the acoustics of the instrument, were recognized only when the invention of the pianoforte had become a matter of history. It was then perceived that the psalterium in which the strings were plucked, and the dulcimer in which they were struck, when provided with keyboards, gave rise to two distinct families of instruments, differing essentially in tone quality, in technique and in capabilities: the evolution of the psalterium stopped at the harpsichord, that of the dulcimer gave us the pianoforte.



“…everyman that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship….”

Daniel III:10

It is no wonder that King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree was opposed, for the sound of the dulcimer makes one feel much more like dancing than “worshipping.” In fact, the modest revival of dulcimer playing in America seems due in large measure to the delightful manner in which dance tunes can be played on it. The hammer dulcimer is capable of a range of tones from a sort of music-box sound to powerful and percussive piano-like effects which can stand out in any band.

Although the plucked dulcimer (also called Appalachian or mountain dulcimer) shares the same name, the two instruments differ considerably in form, sound, evolution, and manner of playing. Both have strings stretched across a neckless soundbox, which identifies them in certain classification schemes as belonging to the zither form. The plucked dulcimer relies on the shortening (fretting or stopping) of strings to produce many pitches with one or few strings. Guitars, banjos, and fiddles work in this way. The alternative is to have one string or course of strings tuned to each desired pitch, as in the harps, piano, psaltery, and hammer dulcimer.

The name dulcimer comes from the Latin and Greek works dulce and melos, which combine to mean “sweet tune.” The meaning and the biblical connections no doubt made the word attractive to those who named the Appalachian dulcimer. All evidence seems to indicate that the Appalachian dulcimer dates back no more than 200 years and that Bibles refer to the hammered type.

The true hammer dulcimer is a close relative to the psaltery, the chief difference being that the psaltery is usually plucked and the dulcimer is usually struck. Early varieties were rather simple, having relatively few strings which passed over bridges only at the sides.

The versatility of the dulcimer was greatly increased by clever placement of additional bridges. Treble courses pass over the side bridges and also over a treble bridge usually placed between the side bridges so that the vibrating lengths of the strings are divided in the ratio 2:3. This results in two notes from each string in the ratio of a perfect fifth interval. Other ratios have occasionally been used. Many dulcimers have another bridge added near the right side to carry bass courses. The bass courses pass high over the bass bridge and low through holes or interruptions in the treble bridge. Likewise, the treble strings are raised at the treble bridge and pass low through the bass bridge. Thus, the treble strings may be struck near the treble bridge without danger of hitting bass strings, and bass courses can be played near the bass bridge without running afoul of treble strings. This arrangement triples the number of notes possible without any increase of size or consequent increase in distance from the player. Dulcimers of this sort began appearing in Europe during the 16th century and remained rather popular to the 18th.

The ancient origins of the dulcimer are undoubtedly in the Near East, where instruments of this type have been made and played for perhaps 5000 years. Santir and psanterim were names early applied to such instruments and are probably derived from the Greek psalterion. Today the dulcimer is known as the santouri in Greece and as the santur in India.

From the Near East the instrument traveled both east and west. Arabs took it to Spain where a dulcimer-like instrument is depicted on a cathedral relief from 1184 A.D. Introduction into the Orient came much later. The Chinese version is still known as the yang ch’in, or foreign zither. Though its use in China is reported to date from about the beginning of the 19th century, Korean tradition claims association with the hammer dulcimer from about 1725.

Although the early keyboard string instruments could have been derived from either psaltery or dulcimer, it seems logical that the dulcimer provided much of the inspiration for the piano. The dulcimer is capable of considerable dynamic nuance; a wide range of effects from loud to soft can be achieved, depending on the manner in which the player strikes the strings. Harpsichords were quite limited in this quality of expressiveness and the clavichord was severely limited in volume. The pianoforte was the result of attempts to overcome these restraints, and the solution was to excite the strings with leather or felt hammers as on the dulcimer. One early form of the piano even bears the name of a 17th-century Prussian dulcimer, the pantaleon.

The most elaborate of dulcimers is certainly the cimbalom, developed around the end of the 19th century in Hungary. This instrument is a mainstay in the music of the Hungarian gypsies and is used as a concert instrument. The cimbalom is equipped with a damper mechanism and has a range of four chromatic octaves. Most other dulcimers are tuned to a diatonic scale with ranges of two to three octaves.

Dulcimers were reasonably common domestic and concert instruments in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries. No doubt they were first brought to the colonies from England where they were used in the street music of the time. Portability and simplicity made the dulcimer much more practical than the piano for many settlers. These attributes probably led to its association with the lumber camps of Maine and Michigan. It is still referred to as a “lumberjack’s piano” in the North. As names for the dulcimer go, however, the American appellation “whamadiddle” must be ranked as most colorful, with a close second in the German term “hackbrett,” literally “chopping board!”

It is interesting that in this era of folk instrument revivals the Appalachian dulcimer, which never had a very widespread distribution in the past, is getting considerable attention from urban performers, while the once well-known hammer dulcimer has faded into relative obscurity. Occasionally, old dulcimers can be found in the Appalachians, Maine, New York, and in various parts of the Midwest.

Several dulcimer factories were thriving in western New York during the 1850s and 1860s. They employed salesmen who played and sold their instruments as far away as Missouri and into the southern states. Michigan has continued to nourish a persistent tradition of dulcimer hammering, and a club of players has been organized there. One Michigander, Chet Parker, has been recorded, and his fine playing of old dance and popular tunes is well worth hearing (Folkways Records FA 02381).

Figure 1 – Arrangement of bridges and strings on dulcimer with bass


The hammer dulcimer is an instrument easily played by ear. Once the tuning is understood, finding melodies is not at all difficult. Playing a rapid tune up to speed may require some practice, however. The key to playing fast passages is to strike one note with one hand and the next note with the other hand, and so on. Give some thought to which hand will be used for which note. You must change from one side of the bridge to the other many times in most tunes. You will want to do this without getting your hands crossed. Try to determine the easiest way to play a tune when starting to learn it. This may help avoid having to relearn the hammering pattern as you attempt to play more rapidly.

Many things have been used for hammers. Bent pieces of cane or curved sticks are perhaps the simplest. Most hammers consist of thin handles with knobs on one end. Handles may be made from tortoiseshell, whalebone, spring metal, wood, and old corset stays. The knobs or hammer heads are usually wood, sometimes with a covering of leather or felt. Sticks with felt pads for hammers give a soft sound but can be hardened by dipping in thinned lacquer or shellac for a loud, crisp tone. Try making different kinds to discover what feels best to you.

Hammers are usually held between thumb and forefinger or between the forefinger and long finger on each hand. Hold them lightly but firmly so that they bounce easily on the strings.

Dulcimers are usually tuned with a fifth interval between notes on either side of the treble bridge, the left side being higher. The bass bridge, when present, carries longer strings and lower notes. Figure 2, a tuning diagram for a D-G-C dulcimer with 12 treble and 11 bass courses, shows a rather common tuning scheme and is the one referred to in this section on playing.

Figure 2

Let us identify pitch locations this way: /2 equals right side treble course #2 (second string from low end); 2/ equals left treble course #2; 2 equals bass course #2; and so on. Starting at the second treble course on the right (/2) a major scale in D can be played in the following way:

You will also find major scales for G and C starting at /5 and /8 respectively. Play them.

The relationship between the bass courses and the right treble courses is the same as that between left treble and right treble courses. Try playing a G scale one octave lower than before using bass courses:

By exploring a little you will find about 2 1/2 octaves in A, D, G, and C, with only an occasional note missing here and there.

Minor scales of Am, Bm, and Em are also present.

For Em: /3 /4 /5 /6 /7 /8 /9 /10

Here are some tunes to try. L and R indicate whether a note is struck with the left or right hand:
Turkey in the Straw, Flowers of Edinburgh, Soldier’s Joy, Fisher’s Hornpipe.

Here are a few chords to try. You can easily find additional ones as needed.

D – /2 /4 2/
G – /2 /5 /2
A7 – /1 /3 /5 2/

G – /5 /7 5/
C – /5 /8 6/
D7 – /4 /6 /8 5/

Am – /6 /8 6/
Dm – /9 /11 9/
Em – /3 /5 3/
Bm – 3/ 5/ 7/

Because of its volume the dulcimer works well as a lead instrument in a band. Try it in combinations with other instruments. You will also find it easy to play chords for back-up and rhythm. Listen to tunes you like and then try to hammer them out by ear. If you read music get a book of dance tunes and get to work!

Have fun!

Authored by Sam Rizzetta





The Hammered Dulcimer in America


Nancy Groce

The hammered dulcimer played an important role in Anglo-American folk and popular music during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. This paper gives a brief history of its development in the Middle East and Europe, its musical use and social function in America, and how it was manufactured and marketed in 19th century America. In the appendices are given a list of United States patents granted for improvements in dulcimer design, a list of known makers, biographical information on the musicians interviewed in the course of this research.


The Hammered Dulcimer

Physical Description

The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoidal shaped chordophone instrument with sets of double strings stretched over a sounding board. On either side of the hammered dulcimer are two side bridges, which elevate the strings as they leave the metal tuning pins that are arranged in groups as blocks. Two additional bridges (treble on the left, bass on the right) are placed on the soundboard to further elevate the strings. Some older designs of the dulcimer have only one bridge in the middle, but double bridge instruments are more common due to their greater versatility. Hammered dulcimers come in a variety of sizes and string counts, but the two most common are the 12/11 and the 15/14, so named for the number of string pairs – or courses – on the treble and bass bridges, respectively.


It is difficult to ascertain exactly when the hammered dulcimer first came into existence. Many countries and cultures have a musical heritage that includes unfretted string instruments that are hit or plucked. The direct ancestor of today’s dulcimer is the psaltery, an instrument that originated in Asia Minor and spread through Europe during the Middle Ages in such countries as England, France, Holland, and Spain (Mason 1977). Early versions of the dulcimer include the Hackbrett (Germany), santur (Middle East), and cimbalom (Hungary). In addition to Europe and North American, a variety of instruments similar to the dulcimer can be seen throughout Asia and the Middle East. Some of the current-day examples of instruments similar to the dulcimer and their related countries include:

Italy – dolcimela

Denmark – hakkegraet

Poland – cymbal, cymbalky

Ireland – teadchlar, tiompan

Thailand – khim

China – yangch’in/yangqin

Iran – santur

India – santoor


Dulcimers are tuned similar to pianos. Special wrenches – most common is the T-handle wrench – are used for tuning. Wrenches fit over the metal hitch pins, which are adjusted to the desired pitch. As the strings of the hammered dulcimer are usually found in pairs, each set of strings is tuned in unison, resulting in the aforementioned course.

The dulcimer has two sets of string courses – treble and bass – that run the width of the instrument. The treble courses pass from the left side over the treble bridge and under the bass bridge. This yields two pitches that can be sounded on either side of the treble bridge. The bass courses pass from the right side over the bass bridge and then under the treble bridge. This just yields one pitch, struck on the right of the bass bridge (Groce 1983: 3).

The most common tuning interval for a treble course is a fifth from right to left across the treble bridge because of its placement on the soundboard 1/3 of the distance between the two side bridges (Mason 1977). The treble bridge may be placed elsewhere to yield other intervals. Strings on the bass bridge are tuned independently of the treble bridge. Tuning options for bass notes can be an octave below the right hand portion of the treble strings, or a 4th below, hence an octave below the left hand portion of the treble strings. Since there are ample bass courses to overlap the treble notes, certain courses may be tuned down a half step to provide extra semitones and increase chromatic possibilities (Kettlewell; Groce 1983).

Strings are tuned diatonically in major scale sequences from bottom to top. Traditional scale tunings are A major, C major, D major, F major, and G major. E major, E minor, B minor, A minor, D minor, and F# minor. Alternate major scale modes are additional tuning possibilities. Below is a diagram of a North American diatonic tuning⎯i.e. fifth-interval tuning⎯of a 12/11 string hammered dulcimer (tuning begins on C# at the bottom of the diagram. The left hand column indicates the notes on the left side of the treble bridge, the center column indicates notes on the right side of the treble bridge, and the right hand column indicates notes on the right bass bridge (Mason 2001:11):


C______F_____C–octave above

B______E_____B flat






C#_____F#____C–middle C




Playing Technique

The hammered dulcimer is commonly positioned on a slanted stand in front of the sitting or standing player (although dulcimers can be played on a flat surface) with the long end at the bottom.

The player strikes the string courses with special mallets called hammers, which are held loosely between the thumb and forefinger. Hammers are thin strips of firm or flexible wood (although many types of materials can be used, wood is most common) with curved or oval heads. The hammer head can be covered – piano felt is common – or left bare. Hammer lengths and style vary from culture to culture. For example, American dulcimer hammers may have oval felt heads at 8.5 inches in length, while Persian santur hammers have bare heads with special finger holes at the ends, in addition to being much thinner and one or two inches shorter.

The skilled player can maintain melodies and harmonies simultaneously due to the organization and position of pitches on the sound board and the dulcimer’s wide pitch range. Chordal effects can be achieved by striking two string courses together. Players can control the string rebound of the hammers against the strings, opting for single pitches or rapid tremolos – also known as “rolls” – from course to course.


Written music for the hammered dulcimer commonly uses standard treble clef Western musical notation. Hammered dulcimer tablature is an alternative method of notation. String courses can be represented by numbers (much like gamelan cipher notation, only more extensive) in parallel with the original Western notation or alone.

Different cultures have their own ciphers (with their own history) for playing and notating music on the dulcimer. For example, in playing traditional Chinese music, yangqin players use jianpu, a numbered musical notation based on a system devised by the French music theorist Emile Joseph Maurice Cheve (1804-1864) and subsequently introduced into China via hymnbooks by Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century (Thrasher et al. 2012).


Due to its many iterations and its long history, the hammered dulcimer has been used in many different situations for many purposes. The dulcimer entered through the back door of most societies by means of minstrels and ostracized minorities (Gifford 2001). Every variety of dulcimer has its own musical tradition. For example, the Hackbrett was used by rural musicians and beggars in German-speaking areas; the santur was played by harem and court musicians in the capital cities of the Middle East (ibid).

The American hammered dulcimer experienced a revival in the mid twentieth century (Groce 1983) and, in the 1980’s, it became more commercially available due to an increase in dulcimer makers in the U.S. The earliest record of a dulcimer in colonial America (1717) shows it as a domestic instrument largely played by young women of wealthy families (Gifford 2001: 240-242). The American dulcimer’s popularity and independence as a local instrument grew in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to their ease of construction, playability, and sturdiness. Tariffs imposed on imported musical instruments may have contributed to an increase in local manufacture of instruments (Gifford 2001: 243).

Nineteenth century players of the dulcimer lived mainly in rural areas – using it to accompany the fiddle for dancing – and more infrequently at society balls. The biggest category of mid-eighteenth century dulcimer music is that of dance tunes – such as “Money Musk,” “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” “Copenhagen Waltz,” “Haste to the Wedding” – and marches and patriotic tunes such as “Yankee Doodle,” and “Washington’s March” (Gifford 2001: 252-259).

The dulcimer’s revival has been credited to performers such as Elgia C. Hickok (1894-1967), founder of the Original Dulcimer Players Club (the term “Original” was chosen to distinguish the hammered dulcimer from the plucked Appalachian dulcimer), and Russell Flaherty, organizer of the Mountain Dulcimer Club (1971) (Groce 1983:72). These performers as well as a growing number of practitioners and dulcimer makers have brought the dulcimer to the attention of a greater public. Today, the hammered dulcimer can be seen and heard being played by street musicians, in folk festivals, movies, television, and sold by online retailers. Its repertory has expanded from dance and patriotic songs to original folk music, pop music, and modern compositions.


Galpin, Francis W. 1932. Old English Instruments of Music: Their History and Character. 3rd ed., rev. London: Methuen.

Gifford, Paul M. 2001. The Hammered Dulcimer, A History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Groce, Nancy. 1983. The Hammered Dulcimer in America. Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, no. 44. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Kettlewell, David. 2012. “Dulcimer.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. (accessed 27 September 2012).

Leach, John. 1968-1969. “The Dulcimer.” The Consort 25: 390-395.

_________. 1978. “The Psaltery and Dulcimer.” The Consort 39: 293-301.

Marcuse, Sybil. 1975. A Survey of Musical Instruments. New York: Harper & Row.

Mason, Phillip. 1977. The Hammered Dulcimer Instruction Book. Crosby, Tennessee: Crying Creek Publishers.

Thrasher, Alan R., et al. 2012. “China: History and Theory.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. (accessed 25 September 2012).

(Courtesy Will Northlich)


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About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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