Category Archives: SANTOOR

Maestros of Santoor – Vol 04


Dilip    Kale     Santoor Player

Listen to Rag Vachaspati :

Pune-based santoorist Dilip Kale speaks about Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma only in superlatives. Not only because he’s Dilip’s guru, according to him the renowned musician is a wonderful human being too. “Ever since he accepted me as his student, my life changed for the better,” he says.

Before Dilip took to playing santoor, he was searching for the perfect medium to express himself. He is also a trained harmonium and tabla player. As if playing these two musical instruments was not enough — there’s a void in him which needed to be filled.

“When I first heard Shivji in a concert in 1984, I was moved by the experience. At that point in time, I knew my quest for the medium of musical expression was over,” he adds. So that was how he shook hands with destiny more than two decades ago, but it took sometime for him to be accepted by Shivji. “I used to attend all of Shivji’s concerts no matter where he was performing. I think after a while he started noticing me. Since santoors were only available in Kashmir those days, I modified a harp into a santoor and started playing it and when I demonstrated this experiment to him, he gladly accepted me as his student.” Ever since, under the watchful eyes of Shivji, Dilip has evolved into an extraordinary exponent of the santoor. He also performs with the maestro now and then.

“Words fail me when I try to express by debt to him. Shivji is not only my ideal in music, but my role model in life,” says Dilip.


Maestros of Santoor – Vol 03

Suddhasheel Chaterji

Santoor Virtuoso – Suddhasheel Chatterji




In this brief documentary virtuoso Suddhasheel Chatterji
explains some basic techniques iof Santoor playing
based on the scale of Rag Vachaspati.

Vachaspati (Lord of Speech) (pronounced Vāchaspati, Sanskrit: वाचस्पति,
Kannada: ವಾಚಸ್ಪತಿ, Telugu: వాచస్పతి Tamil: வாசஸ்பதி) is a rāgam in
Carnatic music (musical scale of South Indian classical music). It is the 64th melakarta
rāgam in the 72 melakarta rāgam system of Carnatic music. It is known as Bhushāvati
according to the Muthuswami Dikshitar school It was borrowed into Hindustani music,
like many other Carnatic rāgams.

It is the 4th rāgam in the 11th chakra Rudra. The mnemonic name is Rudra-Bhu.
The mnemonic phrase is sa ri gu mi pa dhi ni.[2]  Its āroha -avaroha  structure
(ascending and descending scale) is as follows
(see swaras in Carnatic music for details on below notation and terms):

* āroha:    S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N2 S
* avaroha: S N2 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

This scales uses the notes chathusruthi rishabham, antara gandharam,
prati madhyamam, chathusruthi dhaivatham and kaisiki nishadham.
It is a sampoorna rāgam – a rāgam that has all seven swaras (notes).
It is the prati madhyamam equivalent of Harikambhoji, which is the 28th melakarta scale.

It has many janya rāgams (derived scales) associated with it,
out of which Bhooshavali and Saraswathi are popular.

Raga Vachaspati in Hindustani music
Vachaspati is a Carnatic raga, representing the Vachaspati parent-scale (64th Melakarta). In its Hindustani adaptation, it has the tone material of raga Yaman with a flat (komal) Ni replacing the natural (shuddha).

Ascent: S R G M^ P D n S’ Descent: S’ n D P M^ G R S

By Hindustani raga grammar, this has been interpreted as the Kalyan parent-scale in the lower tetrachord and the Kafi parent-scale in the upper tetrachord. For Hindustani musicians, Yaman is the most logical reference point for Vachaspati because, strictly in scalar terms, replacing the Shuddha NI of Yaman with a Komal Ni delivers the Vachaspati scale. But, the issue is a little more complicated.

The most important aspect of the Yaman-to-Vachaspati transformation is the disappearance of the Ga-Ni axis in first-fifth correspondence. Without the Shuddha Ni, the new raga has to find an alternative axis to revolve around. The treatment of the raga by Hindustani musicians tends to explore several alternatives [Re-Pa, Ga-Dh and Ma^-ni], without being able to settle down with any of them. Such experimental uncertainty is  evident in the Vachaspati renderings of musicians of even great stature, as it reflects the current stage of evolution of the raga in the Hindustani system.

From readily available references, it appears that Pandit Ravi Shankar’s interpretation of Vachaspati is academic, precisely according to its scale. He does not omit Re and Dh in the ascent, as some Hindustani musicians have tended to do. As a result, the lower tetrachord remains close to the Yaman, and the upper tetrachord avoids proximity to the Gawoti/ Kalavati flavour. The melodic centre of gravity remains in the mid-octave region, where the two scales coalesce. Interestingly, and probably to accommodate a suggestion of the Carnatic style intonation, Panditji occasionally uses a subliminal touch of flat (komal) Ga along with the natural (shuddha) Ga and natural (shuddha) Ni along with Sa.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor.EMI/HMV: STCS:04B:7375) omits the Re tone in the ascent and frequently omits the sharp (tivra) Ma from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-D-n-S’ Descent: S’-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S or S’-n-D-P-G-R-S). Vocalist, Jagdish Prasad (unpublished) omits Re as well as Dh from the ascent (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S’ Descent: S’-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S.

The legendary Ustad Ameer Khan, who too had a penchant for Carnatic ragas (e.g. Hansadhwani, Charukeshi, Basant Mukhari/ Vakulabharanam), recorded an untitled and self-composed raga (INRECO:LP: 2411-0001,1982), which appears to be his interpretation of Vachaspati. Why he left it untitled is a mystery. In this raga, he omits Re and Dh from the ascent, and Dh from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S’ Descent: S-n-P-M^-G-R-S). Ustad Ameer Khan’s treatment of the Re tone in the descent is fleeting or summary.

Listen to a  Rag Vachaspati
rendering  live recorded at the
annual music contest of the
Satya Devi Memorial Trust

Amarnath Mishra, a Benares based sitarist, trained by a leading Sarangi exponent, (published by India Archive Music, New York) conforms to the version which omits Re in the ascent. In addition, Mishra uses melodic features of Saraswati, an allied raga which includes Re, but omits Ga in the ascent and descent (Tone material: S R M^ P D n). Mishra’s inclusion of phrases such as S-R-M^-R and S-R-M^-P, along with the characteristic M^-P-M^-R, incorporates the Saraswati identity. (For Saraswati: textual reference: Subba Rao B, Raga Nidhi, Vol. IV. 4th impression.1996 Music Academy, Madras. Pg.68.)

Vachaspati is increasingly becoming familiar to Hindustani audiences by its chalan (distinctive phraseology). This chalan itself is fluid because of the recency of the raga’s introduction into Hindustani music and the handful of musicians of stature who have worked on shaping its distinctive melodic identity. The variance extends to the predominant mood of the raga, with renditions ranging from the profound to the vivacious and, of course, some which oscillate in between.

The transformation of Carnatic ragas into Hindustani melodic entities has been an uneven process. While some ragas like Abhogi, Hamsadhwani, and Kirwani have acquired a stable Hindustani identity reasonably fast, several others are unstable several decades after their introduction. Under such conditions, every musician playing these ragas risks confusion in the audience mind by calling his interpretation by the same Carnatic name. In addition, he also risks the disapproval of those Carnatic-oriented audiences, who might find themselves uncomfortable with all Hindustani treatments in general.



Please click picture for video Introduction

Chandni Kalyan — an alternative name

This assessment of the risks probably persuaded Ustad Vilayat Khan, in the 1970s, to coin a new name “Chandni Kalyan” for Vachaspati. The word “Kalyan” establishes the raga’s anchoring in the Kalyan parent scale, and its affinity to Yaman, the main raga of the Kalyan scale. The prefix “Chandni” alludes to the precedent of Chandni Kedar which comes into being by replacing the Shuddha Ni of Kedar with a Komal Ni. Yaman Kalyan undergoes an identical transformation in Chandni Kalyan. The prefix was, therefore, considered appropriate.

Though Vachaspati is known to a large number of music lovers, familiarity with the Chandni Kalyan coinage is still restricted to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s audiences. Its logic could, however, assure wider usage for the name, if the raga itself becomes more popular.

Musicologists have often argued that Hindustani music tends to adopt merely the scales of Carnatic ragas, without concerning itself with the totality of their raga-ness. The musical approaches of the two traditions are so distinct that a cross-cultural transformation acceptable to both traditions may be impossible. The Hindustani tradition does, however, attempt to achieve a stable melodic personality for each adopted raga which may, or may not, appear satisfactory to aficionados of Carnatic music. The maturation of these personalities requires several musicians of great stature to devote their musical energies to the process. Until this happens, Hindustani as well as Carnatic audiences will perceive these transformations as awkward in their raga-ness.

Chandni Kalyan/ Vachaspati might still be at this half-baked stage of raga-ness in the Hindustani tradition. Its  authoritative grammar will be written only after its literature has matured. Until then, each musician’s interpretation of it must be accepted on its own terms, and judged only on its distinctiveness and aesthetic coherence.

(Text excerpts courtesy of  Deepak Raja)


Maestros of Santoor – Vol 02


Kiranpal Singh Deoora  –  Maestro of Santoor

Kiranpal Singh Deoora


Born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa, on 13th December 1957, Kiranpal grew up in a Namdhari Sikh family with a strong musical atmosphere. The family later moved to England.  Kiranpal Singh’s first music study was the tabla, which he pursued under the guidance of Shree Ripdhaman Singh of Punjab Gharana from 1970 to 1977.

His potential as an artiste of the highest caliber was recognized by His Holiness Sri Sat Guru Jagjit Singh Ji Maharaj, spiritual guide and leader of the Namdhari Sikhs, on a visit to the UK, and His Holiness bountifully arranged for Kiranpal to be sent to Bombay to study Santoor in the traditional way under Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. He completed twelve years of study as an outstanding student, mastering the subtleties and intricacies of the instrument in such a commanding way, that he is now recognized as a leading disciple of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, and in his own right as the principal Santoor player in Europe.

Now settled in England, Kiranpal has gained respect and admiration for his various performances in the UK, Europe and beyond, in recitals, festivals and lecture demonstrations. Admired by both audiences and critics, his mastery of the advanced techniques of the instrument, combined with a creative flair and spontaneous imagination, has developed a recognizable individuality in his performances. He performs regularly in collaboration with musicians from other musical styles. This, in turn, has led him to be sought after as a co-leader of ground-breaking developmental and cross-cultural projects, whilst continuing to advance the presentation of Indian Classical music to ever widening audiences through his solo work.

Rag   Todi

Hanumatodi, more popularly known as Todi, (Sanskrit: हनुमतोडि, Kannada: ಹನುಮತೋಡಿ, Telugu: హనుమతోడి, Tamil: ஹனுமத்தோடி) is a rāgam in Carnatic music (musical scale of South Indian classical music). It is the 8th melakarta  rāgam (parent scale) in the 72 melakarta rāgam system. This is sung very often in concerts. It is known to be a difficult rāgam to perform in owing to its complexity in prayoga (phrases of notes and intonation). It is called Janatodi in Muthuswami Dikshitar school of Carnatic music.

Todi in Carnatic music, is different from Todi (thaat) of Hindustani music (North Indian classical music). The equivalent of the Hindustani raga Todi in Carnatic music is Shubhapantuvarali (which is the 45th melakarta). The equivalent of Carnatic Todi in Hindustani is Bhairavi thaat.

Rag  Bilaskhani Todi

Raga                Bilaskhani Todi
Thaat                  Bhairavi
Samay      Late Morning

Swaras Used      Komal Rishabh, Komal Gandhar, Komal Dhaivat, Komal Nishad, Shuddha      Madhyam.
Bilaskhani Todi is a Hindustani classical raga. It is a blend of the ragas Asavari and Todi.

It is said that this raga was created by Bilas Khan, son of Miyan Tansen. Bilas Khan is said to have created raga Bilaskhani Todi after Tansen’s death; an interesting legend of this improvisation (it differs only in detail from Tansen’s Todi), has it that Bilas composed it while grief-stricken at the wake itself, and that Tansen’s corpse moved one hand in approval of the new melody.

The Santoor

The Santoor is an exquite 100 stringed unique to the Himalayan valley of Kashmir. The santoor has been a folk instrument there for centuries but in the last 40 years it has risen to new prominence. It has the shape of a trapezoidal box, the sides of which form a 45° angle with the same. Strings are attached to the left side and tuned by turning metal pegs on the right with a key. Each group of strings is stretched over a movable hard wood bridge. Bridges are placed parallel to the sides of the trapezium. On the right, a line for the low strings, and on the left, one to support the top strings. The left strings can be sounded to either side of their bridges, giving in all three different string systems. With 72 strings disposed in two times 9 groups, 27 different sounds can be obtained, a rang of a little over three octaves.

The many strings enable an immense variety of resonating sounds that fill the air like waves. In a typical style of music known as ‘Sufiana Mausiqi’, the santoor has been played as an accompanying instrument with the vocalist and sometimes as a ‘Solo’ also.

It was originally known as the ‘Shata Tantri Veena’, which is a Sanskrit word for a hundred stringed instrument. All stringed instruments in Ancient India were knowo as ‘Veena’. Todays examples would be ‘Rudra Veenac Vachitra Veenac. The name ‘Santoor’ was given by the Persians.

Similar instruments are found all over tbe world like ‘Santoor’ in Iran, ‘Yang Chin’ in China, ‘Cimbalom in Hungary and Rumania, ‘Santoori in Greece, ‘Hack Bret’ in Germany and ‘Hammered Dulcimer’ in certain European countries and America.

The Santoor is played with a pair of curved sticks made out of walnut wood. It produces variety of lively tonal effects reminiscent of the Piano or the Harp. With the innovations carried out on it by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma – the pioneer of the modern day santoor, it takes on a much wider range of expressiveness. “Modernists” have covered the tips of the sticks with felt to soften the impact and come close to a piano sonority, but traditional aesthetics require a fine, precise sonority only to be obtained with light hard-wood sticks.

संतूर The Santoor of G.M. Szaz संतूर




The Santoor of G. M. Szaz

The manufacturing of a Santoor is a complicated and special refined process.
G.M. Szaz is one of the leading Dynasties of Original Santoor manufacturers
from the Home of the Santoor : KASHMIR

This is a family based manufacture site in Srinagar Kashmir working with Santoor for more generations.

These type of Santoors are highly recommended by Santoor Masters in Kashmir and
in India



The Santoor of G.M. Szaz


Over a rusted nail in the mud wall above the windowsill hangs a century old peacock shaped musical instrument called tawoos. The dried up texture of its surface play the notes of loss. While the flowing waters of Jhelum could be seen rejuvenating the city outside, inside this workshop, centuries old art is breathing its last.
Worn out tools are scattered all around the place. Ghulam Mohammad Zaz sits in one corner with a Santoor in his hand. “It is making noise,” he says, as he again peeps through his under sized glasses on his nose to concentrate on his job. Listening to every string and adjusting each key, Zaz may find out the problem in minutes. Or it may take a day. Whatever the time span, he is the only expert who can set the Santoor right. If he can listen to the beats, he can speak to the music too.  Zaz is the only living santoor maker in valley.
This rundown shop hidden inside a cluster of houses, however, is not only the last memory of an art-form at the verge of extinction, it’s a reminder of a history too. Seventeen decades back, Ghulam Mohammad Zaz’s ancestor, a man whose name no one remembers, set up a workshop on the banks of Jhelum in Zaina Kadal where musical instruments would be made. His son, Khazir Mohammad learnt the art from him and in turn taught his son Gul Ju. Through successive generations, the art passed to Rahmaan Ju, in whose time the business flourished and made the family famous all over mainland India. Leading musicians would instruments made in this workshop. Rehmaan Ju’s only son, Abdul Ahad took over the business after his father’s death. Now the time had come for passing the inherited business to the seventh successive generation. While Ahad’s elder son Abdul Majeed preferred a government job, his younger son Ghulam Mohammad Zaz was trained by his father.
Today Zaz is 65 and the only skilled person of his craft left in Kashmir. He works in the same room, with the same worn out tools that his ancestors used. Unlike his forefathers, however, he cannot pass it to anyone. No one has come to him for learning. And he has no son.
“I have three daughters and my brother has no children. There is no one who can take over after me. I am the only santoor making person in Kashmir,” asserts Zaz. “And I think I would be the last.”
Zaz makes Kashmiri Sitar, Indian Sitar, Rabab, Saarangi, Santoor and Tanpura. Many instruments Zaz knows how to manufacture are not even played today. “There are many other instruments. I don’t want to mention. Nobody will understand. I have buried this art in my heart. It will be buried with me,” says Zaz, while adjusting the strings of a santoor.
Above his head, several framed pictures of leading Indian musicians are handing on the wall. “This is Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma playing my santoor. This one is Bhajan Sopori,” says Zaz. He is proud of it. His silence tells.
While the photos tell the story of his fame, deep inside Zaz is a pained man. He is happy with the name this craft has given him, yet he has complaints to make, “Businesses cannot run on mere acclamations. Applauds do not satisfy belly,” says Zaz.
It takes at least one month to make an instrument. Mulberry wood is mostly used but the timber should be seasoned to give fine tonal quality. Another type of wood called vireen was earlier used, but now it is not available. The strings are made of different material for different instruments. In instrument Saazi Kashmir, strings are made of silk. In Santoor and Saitaar, they are made of steel. And for Rabab, processed animal intestines especially of sheep are used.
At first different parts of instrument are carved out of wood using ordinary tools. After properly shaped, they are then fitted together. Then comes time of ornamentation in which polishing and painting is done. Earlier instruments would be decorated by fixing flowers on them. The flowers would be made of ivory and the horns of some wild animals. With a ban on hunting, either substitutes made of plastic are used or paint is applied for the same. Instrument the once ready, Zaz sells it for a price anywhere between five thousand to twenty thousand rupees.
Zaz claims that expertise is not all that goes into making of a musical instrument. “One needs to have a pure soul,” the lone expert claims. But he contends that purity of soul no longer exists. “Those who make instruments are equally ignorant like those who play.”
A mere look at the wood tells Zaz about the quality of tones it can produce, though he does not know how to play instruments. “Just by looking at a tree, I can make out which part of it can give me tonal instrument.  It doesn’t require any principle but a vision,” Says Zaz. “My mind is my measuring scale,” he murmurs as if revealing a secret.
Zaz believes that conflict in Kashmir is the most important reasons for the death of his art. “The migration of Kashmiri Pandits was a major set back. They were more ingrained in culture than Muslims. Then the reduction of the tourist number was yet another jolt,” Zaz claims
The only people Zaz caters to are either foreign customers or tourists.
Zaz doesn’t want to comment on the role of government, “They should know their job as I know mine. Who am I to teach them? Let them attain bigger names, my elders have done that job for me,” he says
When asked what message he wants to give, Zaz says, “Nothing. I will do my job and leave.”

(Courtesy of  KASHMIR LIFE )



The Santoor of Rahman Joo Sahib




(Personal Foto-Portraits  of Rahman Joo Sahib (c) by Anant Raina)

see also

The Santoor of Rahman Joo Sahib

(Click Button below To Watch documentary)


Srinagar-4th Bridge-Hari Prabat-19th-century

Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz

Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz




Sufiana Kalam
Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz et son ensemble

Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz : santour, voix soliste
Mushtaq Ahmad Saznawaz : saz-e-kashmiri, voix
Shabir Ahmad Saznawaz : setar, voix
Kaiser Mushtaq Saznawaz : setar, voix
Mohammad Rafiq Saznawaz : dokra, voix

Le Sufiana Kalam est la musique classique du Cachemire par excellence. Intimement lié à la tradition spirituelle du soufisme, son répertoire est constitué de suites vocales et instrumentales, centrées sur l’interprétation de poèmes mystiques, chantés en cachemiri, en persan ou en ourdou.

Cette musique est traditionnellement jouée lors de longues séances nocturnes appelées mehfil, au cours desquelles un maître spirituel (pîr, shaykh) et ses disciples se réunissent pour méditer sur le sens des vers, tout en se laissant pénétrer par la beauté envoûtante des voix et des timbres instrumentaux.

Le Sufiana Kalam représente une sorte de pont entre les musiques de l’Iran et de l’Inde du Nord. Il est basé sur un corpus de 47 modes mélodiques (maqâm) et d’une quinzaine de cycles rythmiques (tâla) différents. Maqâm est également le nom donné aux différentes suites traditionnelles, constituées chacune de plusieurs séquences vocales et instrumentales aux rythmes différents, mais composées dans un mode commun. Les paroles du chant sont entonnées par un soliste, puis reprises à l’unisson par l’ensemble des musiciens.

Les instruments du Sufiana Kalam sont invariablement les suivants :
– le santour, généralement joué par le chef du groupe, une cithare sur caisse trapézoïdale tendue d’une centaine de cordes et frappées à l’aide de deux fines baguettes appelées qalam ;
– le saz-e-kashmiri, aujourd’hui très rarement joué, une vièle à pique, à trois cordes de jeu en boyau, semblable au kamanche persan, mais plus grand et pourvu de cordes sympathiques comme un sarangi indien ;
– le setar, luth à long manche tendu de 7 à 9 cordes, d’un type intermédiaire entre le setar persan et le sitar indien ;
– le dokra, qui est le nom que les Cachemiriens donnent aux tabla, la paire de timbales qu’on rencontre dans la plupart des régions d’Inde du Nord.

De l’avis général, Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz est aujourd’hui le dernier grand maître du Sufiana Kalam. Son ensemble est en tout cas le seul à en avoir préservé la tradition dans sa forme originale, et son répertoire est considérable. Il est en outre affilié à l’ordre soufi des Chishti, très réputé dans le souscontinent indien pour l’usage qui y est fait de la musique et de la poésie chantée.

Fils du Ustad Mohammad Ramzan Joo et descendant d’une lignée de cinq génération de musiciens, Ghulam Saznawaz a transmis l’art du Sufiana Kalam à ses fils Mushtaq, Shabir et Mohammad Rafiq ainsi qu’à son petit-fils Kaiser, qui ont tous appris à jouer de tous les instruments ; ce sont eux qui l’entourent dans ce petit ensemble familial, qui est aujourd’hui unique en son genre. Fréquemment invité à jouer lors des mehfil, il répugne aux compromis, et se produit par exemple rarement sur les chaînes locales de radio et de télévision.

Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz and ensemble

Maestros of Santoor – Vol 01



Bipul Kumar Ray  – Young   Maestro  of   Santoor

Bipul is one of the finest santoor exponents of the country. Under the tutelage of Santoor maestro Pandit Bhajan Sopori, an outstanding exponent of “Sufiyana Gharana” of Kashmir, has mastered “Khayal and Tantrakari Ang” (style) equally well, with arduous training and hard work. Bipul’s recitals are very much influenced by his Guru and that is why he is very much particular about the purity of raga and its aesthetical approach. The recitals seek to combine melodious Alap and Tantrakari innovative improvisation with mesmerizing “Layakari”, superb sound control and dexterous finger work.

The entire rendition, be it serious or light is sparkled by intuition. The recitals not only appeal to the classical artists but to all level of listeners. If there is sheer lilting melody for the layman, then there is heady complexity for the connoisseur too.

Bipul has a Master and M. Phil degree in Classical vocal music and pursuing research (Ph.D) on Santoor from the University of Delhi. He has bagged several Awards and prizes.

Bipul Kumar Ray is one of the leading santoor exponents of the country. Having received training under the tutelage of Pandit Bhajan Sopori, Bipul has bagged several awards with his melodious performances. Along with conducting music workshop of Sahitya Kala Parishad, Govt. of Delhi as a Director and being an A grade artiste from All -India Radio, Bipul has also been empanelled with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

A brief Introduction to Santoor

In the beginning of the 20th century, Santoor entered the Indian classical arena of Music. There were about 50 different shapes and varieties of Veena during the ancient period. Especially, there is a reference of an instrument called ‘Baan’ in Rig-Veda. It was used in ‘Sama-gayan’. The literary meaning of word Baan is hundred stringed Veena which is also called ‘Shat-tantri Veena.’
There is a difference of opinion about the origin of Santoor among scholars. Some scholars believe that the Santoor arrived from Iran (Central Asia) to India but most agree that it is derived from the ancient Indian instruments. Santoor is popular instrument in Kashmir since ancient period especially in Sufiana Mausiqi. Sufiana Mausiqi is not folk music instead it is similar to Indian classical Ragas. The use of Santoor in Sufiana Mausiqi especially in Makam (vocal) is since time immemorial.

In traditional Sufiana santoor, there are 25 bridges. On the left side, steel strings are being used and on the right side brass strings are being used. There are 4 strings on each bridge which makes it 100 stringed instruments.There are similar instruments to Indian santoor in the world also. To name a few:
Salterio (Maxico), Santur (Iran), Khim (Laos), Hackbrett (Germany), Tympanon (France), Hammarharpa (Sweden), Hammered Dulcimer (USA)




Persian Santur_



Le santour (graphie francisée la plus commune), santûr, santoor, santur, santouri ou santîr est un instrument de musique du Moyen-Orient appartenant à la famille des cithares sur table. Il s’agit d’un instrument à cordes frappées, tout comme le cymbalum ou le piano apparus plus tard, dont il est l’origine commune. On peut aussi le classer comme instrument de percussion mélodique. On en joue en effet à l’aide de deux petits marteaux (mezrab en persan ou en turc) placés entre les doigts.

L’étymologie du terme est complexe et sujette à nombre de controverses[1] : il semble dérivé du grec ancien psallo (« frapper ou chanter »[2]), de l’hébreu psantîr ou de l’araméen psantria (dont le psaltérion a hérité), mais on a aussi tenté de le faire dériver du persan ou du sanskrit (sau-târ signifiant « cent cordes »[3]). Sa graphie est tout aussi instable et variée en vertu du caractère aléatoire des transcriptions.

Sans doute très ancien (peut-être assyrien selon certains auteurs contestés[4]), ses premières traces écrites ou picturales sous sa forme actuelle ne datent que du XIIe siècle, notamment dans un poème de Manûchehri[5] et sur le bas-relief en ivoire d’origine byzantine, servant de couverture au manuscrit Egerton reçu en 1131 dans le Royaume franc de Jérusalem[6]. Il disparaît alors dans le haut Moyen Âge sans qu’il soit possible de déterminer précisément sa migration. Il réapparaît en effet sous des noms et des formes variés, sa légèreté alliée à des dimensions réduites lui ayant permis de faire partie des instruments migrateurs, adoptés tant par les musiciens itinérants, Tziganes ou Juifs (qui le jouent en le portant en bandoulière), que par les musiciens savants (qui le jouent assis).

Il ne faut le confondre ni avec le qanûn, qui est une cithare orientale se jouant avec les doigts munis d’onglets en pinçant les cordes, ni avec le sintîr qui est un luth maghrébin.
Santûr perse en 1669.

Particularités acoustiques

Étant donné le grand nombre de cordes mises en œuvre, le santour est un instrument à l’abord difficile : il suffit d’essayer d’accorder ensemble 12 guitares pour comprendre ce sacerdoce. 72 ou 100 cordes à accorder (en chœurs de trois ou quatre) quotidiennement n’est pas une mince affaire quand il n’y a pas une structure en acier (comme pour le piano) pour les maintenir en place, mais une simple lutherie entièrement en bois noble (noyer ou chêne), mises à part les chevilles, tout comme pour le clavecin.

La particularité de pouvoir jouer plusieurs cordes en même temps et successivement en « accord ouvert » offre une grande richesse de résonances et d’harmoniques accentués par l’absence d’étouffoirs sur les baguettes. Comme rien n’arrête la vibration de la corde, elle a un sustain, une tenue très longue (près de 20 s), et il se produit alors une forme d’harmonie non pas groupée en un accord simultané, plaqué, mais groupée de manière successive, ce qui rend le jeu difficile, car une note ou ses harmoniques peuvent continuer de sonner alors que d’autres notes et harmoniques se font entendre en même temps.

Les chœurs de trois ou quatre cordes accordées à l’unisson permettent aussi une amplification du son par sympathie et vibration réciproque entre elles d’une part, et avec celles à l’octave inférieure ou supérieure, d’autre part.

Toutes ces caractéristiques acoustiques en font un instrument très efficace pour la musique modale, mais très limité pour l’harmonie tonale, qui se joue avec des accords (de trois notes simultanées au moins). L’effet polyphonique est saisissant puisqu’on a l’impression d’entendre plusieurs instruments en même temps quand il est joué, étant donné la rapidité de succession des notes « toutes faites » (comme au piano) ne nécessitant pas une préparation par un placement des doigts (comme au luth).

Typologie des santours

Il existe cinq types de santours plus ou moins proches les uns des autres. Ils ont certaines caractéristiques communes les différenciant des autres cithares à cordes frappées tels les cymbalums d’Europe orientale ou les yangqins d’Extrême-Orient : la forme trapézoïdale à angles prononcés de la caisse de résonance ; les chevalets mobiles, en nombre restreint et en forme de pions d’échiquier ; les chevilles insérées dans le côté droit perpendiculaire à la table d’harmonie ; des âmes placées sous la table d’harmonie ; l’accord diatonique ; les baguettes à encoches facilitant la préhension par les doigts. Seul le santouri fait exception en étant un type hybride avec le cymbalum.

Le santûr d’Iran

C’est le plus ancien et le plus petit de la « famille »[7]. Très sobre esthétiquement et très brillant pour la sonorité. Si le santûr (سنتور en persan) est resté si petit et si sobre, c’est qu’il devait littéralement circuler sous le manteau, la musique n’étant pas très bien perçue dans le monde musulman en général, chiite en particulier[8], mise à part la cantillation du Coran, si bien que ce sont parfois des musiciens de confession juive qui ont pris part à sa préservation[9]. De même le témoignage de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, faisant état d’échanges de musiciens (jouant du santour) entre la France et l’Iran au XVIe siècle montre qu’il existait des influences mutuelles insoupçonnées[10]. Il fut ensuite réservé à la méditation intimiste et aux oreilles du Shâh jusqu’au XIXe siècle.

Ce type d’instrument est également apparu de manière épisodique en Arménie en ce temps-là, avant de disparaître au XXe siècle pour y réapparaître très récemment[11].

Le XXe siècle devait voir en Iran l’essor de pédagogues virtuoses qui assurèrent la pérennité de l’instrument. Suite à la Révolution iranienne de 1979, nombre de musiciens iraniens s’expatrièrent en Europe, en Israël, aux États-Unis ou au Japon. Cette diaspora a contribué à faire connaître l’instrument en l’intégrant notamment à d’autres styles musicaux que la musique traditionnelle (jazz, world, classique, etc.) ; aujourd’hui il est fort répandu, y compris parmi les Iraniennes, qui l’apprécient beaucoup. Il a par ailleurs complètement supplanté le qanûn qui a pratiquement disparu d’Iran.

Santûr avec mezrabs et clef d’accord.

Le santûr iranien a 72 cordes, disposées par chœurs de quatre sur 18 chevalets (kharak) mobiles placés sur une table d’harmonie trapézoïdale (90 x 38 x 5 cm) formant un angle à 45°. Il peut être de taille légèrement différente selon qu’il soit pour voix d’homme ou de femme. Des versions modernes ont quelques cordes en plus permettant des transitions entre les modes musicaux.

La structure de la caisse de résonance et les chevalets (dont les sillets sont en métal, de même que ceux disposés le long des côtés) sont en bois dur (noyer, chêne, bouleau, mûrier…) alors que la table d’harmonie est en bois plus tendre (hêtre, acajou…). Étant donné l’énorme pression des cordes sur la table (plus d’une tonne), il faut une certaine épaisseur (6 à 10 mm) ainsi que des âmes réparties en des endroits clés[12] (4 ou 5 notamment sous les rosaces) assurant à la fois solidité et résonance. Tout est collé à l’ancienne à l’aide de colle de nerfs ; il n’y a aucun clou ou vis.

Deux petites ouïes, en forme de fleurs ou de rosaces, permettent une meilleure circulation de la résonance. Elles sont complétées par une ouverture au milieu de l’éclisse arrière, assurant un plus grand volume sonore et permettant le réglage des âmes.

Les cordes graves (placées sur les chevalets à droite) sont en bronze ; les aiguës (placées sur les chevalets centraux) sont en fer ou en acier (plus résistant mais moins brillant). Les chevilles, placées sur le côté droit, sont coniques et lisses, bien qu’on ait utilisé longtemps des filetées ; une clef d’accord est utilisée pour les serrer. De simples clous permettent la fixation des cordes sur le côté gauche. Grâce à l’angulation retenue pour la caisse de résonance (45°), les cordes sont toutes du même calibre, puisque celles réservées aux basses auront naturellement une longueur supérieure à celles dévolues aux aigus.

Les baguettes ou marteaux (mezrab) ont 20 cm de long, avec un bout recourbé (comme un patin) parfois agrémenté de feutre, et l’autre avec une encoche ou un anneau facilitant la préhension. Ils sont extrêmement légers (4 g), très fins (2 à 3 mm) et très résistants grâce aux bois durs employés (buis, néflier). Alors que traditionnellement ils étaient droits, ils sont très souvent courbes aujourd’hui.

Il existe deux grandes écoles de jeu pour le mouvement des mezrabs, tenus fermement au bout des cinq doigts : les anciens en jouent avec les seuls poignets (bascule haut bas, sans mouvement de doigts ou de bras) et plutôt loin du santûr, mais les modernes se servent plus de leurs doigts (bascule avant arrière des seuls majeurs-annulaires-auriculaires, avec mouvements de poignets et de bras) et jouent très près de l’instrument ; de temps en temps aussi, ils étouffent le son de l’instrument avec la main ou avec un morceau de soie.

L’accord est diatonique et variable, avec des quarts de tons selon les modes persans, les dastgâhs. Le registre est de 3 octaves et demie (de Mi3 à Fa6) disposées en trois sections parallèles grâce à un artifice acoustique : la série de neuf chevalets (en forme de pions d’échiquier) médians est utilisée pour séparer en deux parties distinctes (ratio de 2/3) les séries de cordes en acier, offrant ainsi en frappant successivement sur celles de droite puis sur celles de gauche, le médium et l’aigu à l’octave, alors que la série de neuf chevalets à droite de l’instrument, réservée aux basses, ne se percute qu’à gauche. Les deux premiers chevalets servant en outre de pédale de basse et de note modulable.

Cette disposition est astucieuse également pour le jeu : en effet, le musicien ne pourrait pas s’y retrouver devant tant de cordes. Avoir deux séries séparées de chevalets offre une différence de hauteur de corde par rapport à la table d’harmonie : elles se croisent en son milieu et remontent chacune de leur côté, offrant ainsi un dénivelé visuel. Celui-ci est aussi augmenté par le fait que les chevalets sont disposés en quinconce, si bien qu’on a toujours un chœur de cordes en haut puis un en bas, etc.

Pour changer de modes, il faut bien sûr réaccorder l’instrument, mais cela peut être effectué rapidement de manière temporaire en s’arrêtant de jouer et en déplaçant, à gauche ou à droite, les chevalets amovibles (les tentatives d’user de roulettes ou de billes n’ont guère convaincu) ; cet artifice trouble parfois la justesse de l’instrument et élimine d’emblée tout jeu sur la partie décalée de la corde (à gauche du chevalet qui n’est plus à l’octave.

On en joue toujours assis (ou à genoux), par terre ou sur une chaise, l’instrument reposant soit sur les genoux soit devant le musicien (« santouriste »), sur une table ou un tapis… Le jeu est très virtuose (par ex. un chaharmezrab correspond à une succession rapide de mouvement « Droite » et « Gauche » du genre : DDDG – DDDG – DDDG… où D=Do6 et G=Do4 et Fa4 successivement) et demande une dissociation mentale afin de pouvoir jouer d’une main un rythme et de l’autre une mélodie rythmée différemment, tout en donnant aussi les accents du rythme, à la manière du piano et autres instruments polyphoniques qui du reste l’influencent de plus en plus, provoquant une évolution très importante de la technique.

La qualité de la production sonore dépend, en outre de la lutherie, d’un style de frappe particulier : le zang[13]. Il correspond à un « fouetté » ou un « claqué » du poignet qui provoque une frappe très sèche et très rapide ; de ce fait, lors de l’impact sur les cordes, le temps et la surface sont réduits au minimum, augmentant la limpidité sonore. Une autre frappe, le riz, est très importante : il s’agit de la succession très rapide de coups droits (râst) puis gauches (chap) qui provoque un roulement caractéristique (D-G-D-G-D-G-D…) et où l’inertie des baguettes ne peut ici être employée.

Le santûr se prête à l’exécution du radif, corpus écrit savant de la musique iranienne, mais aussi des pièces populaires motrebi ou folkloriques (de la musique kurde). Il peut se jouer seul, en duo, en ensemble, ou accompagné d’une percussion (tombak ou daf) ou d’un orchestre (il existe des concertos). L’usage de partitions occidentales s’est répandu depuis son enseignement en conservatoire. Il existe aussi des méthodes d’apprentissage.

Ses principaux interprètes contemporains sont Faramarz Payvar, Madjid Kiani et Parviz Meshkatiân.

Le santoor d’Inde

Possiblement aussi très ancien dans le sud du pays (selon les avis partagés des musicologues débattant de la signification d’une « vîna à cent cordes » ou shatatantri vîna) mais disparu[14], il est apparu tardivement dans le nord de l’Inde, au Cachemire (le poète Nowshehri le cite au XVIe siècle[15]), certainement sous l’influence perse par la route de la soie (la présence du santoor en Afghanistan, au Pakistan ou au Népal n’est qu’anecdotique).

Il est plus grand, plus lourd, plus volumineux et plus sonore. Il est également plus décoré soit par des bas-reliefs, soit par des appliques de marqueterie. Tout ceci tient au fait que la musique indienne était une musique de cour et qu’il fallait jouer devant des maharajas ou des nawabs avec d’imposantes suites dans de grands halls.

C’est le seul instrument indien (en plus du swarmandal, une cithare jouée avec les doigts, qu’il ne faut pas confondre) incapable d’exécuter des micro-modulations sur une note (meend) et il est de ce fait surprenant de le voir interpréter aujourd’hui la musique savante dont une partie du répertoire lui demeure fermée[16]; aussi c’est encore un instrument rare.

Santoor avec mezrabs.

Le santoor indien a une caisse de résonance trapézoïdale imposante (80 cm x 60 cm x 8 cm) en teck ou en noyer, et à l’angle de 60°. De 96 à 130 cordes passent sur les 24 à 30 sillets en os de chameau des chevalets amovibles (du type pions d’échiquier) placés sur une table d’harmonie de qualité très variable, souvent en contreplaqué… Le tout est collé (à la colle blanche) et cloué avec en outre des joints de menuiserie.

Les chevalets sont organisés en deux séries de 15 presque parallèles à l’angle de la caisse de résonance (ratio 1/6) ; il n’y a pas de série centrale, mais deux séries latérales, l’une à gauche, l’autre à droite, et la disposition des notes ne va pas de gauche à droite, mais de bas en haut, si bien que les basses sont en bas et les aiguës, en haut, indifféremment de toutes considérations de côté.

Il n’y a aucune ouïe (sauf exception) comme dans tous les instruments indiens, mais il y a bien des âmes parfois remplacées par des barrages de soutien (physique plutôt qu’acoustique). L’éclisse arrière comporte un large trou pour permettre le réglage des âmes ainsi que le transport de l’instrument, à moins qu’une poignée n’y soit rajoutée.

On utilise au moins huit calibres différents de cordes hétérogènes (acier, fer, bronze, laiton, filetée) placées en chœurs de deux, trois ou quatre, ce qui ne facilite pas la maintenance. Les chevilles, ni filetées ni lisses, sont placées sur le côté droit de la caisse de résonance. De simples clous sont placés sur le côté opposé afin de maintenir les cordes.

Les baguettes ou mezrabs, tenues avec trois doigts, sont de forme similaire mais avec un poids et une épaisseur bien supérieurs, ce qui provoque deux nouvelles utilisations : le musicien se sert du poids du mezrab à titre de rebond afin de créer des trémolos (ce sont des riz non contrôlés). De plus, il peut aussi le faire glisser sur les cordes et obtenir un son de vibration très feutré, grâce à des mini-encoches réalisées sur l’avant recourbé en forme de patin.

Les Indiens sont accoutumés de se servir aussi de leurs doigts ou mains afin d’étouffer le son ou de faire quelques arpèges en pizzicato, voire un glissando par pression sur une seule corde.

L’accord est diatonique et variable selon les modes indiens, les râgas, bien que la structure de l’instrument pourrait accueillir une échelle chromatique. Il a un registre de 2 octaves et demie disposées en deux sections parallèles (de Do3 à Sol5).

Curieusement, les Indiens ne jouent que sur une seule section à la fois (celle de droite, mises à part les pédales de basses et celle de bourdon réservée à l’exécution très rapide ou jhalâ), réservant l’autre pour un autre mode diatonique ou râga. On ne frappe ainsi que d’un côté d’un chevalet de telle sorte que le jeu va plutôt vers l’avant que vers la gauche ou la droite. Bien qu’amovibles, nul ne bouge jamais les chevalets.

On en joue assis par terre, l’instrument posé sur les genoux ou sur un petit pied. Le jeu est moins virtuose qu’en Iran, mais tout aussi rapide et rythmé. Ce n’est que très récemment qu’il a été intégré à la musique hindoustanie à titre d’instrument soliste, se cantonnant jusque-là au folklore et à la musique soufie (sûfyâna kâlam) dans la musique cachemirie, joué en petits ensembles. Cette limitation géographique couplée au fait que les musiciens ne se servent que d’une seule partie de l’instrument pour jouer, laisse supposer qu’il s’agit bien d’une importation par la route de la soie, plutôt que d’un instrument autochtone au développement parachevé.

Il se joue toujours accompagné de percussions (tablâ), parfois en duet (jugalbandi). Il a aussi intégré les orchestres œuvrant au sein de Bollywood, pour la musique filmi. Outre des compositions, le répertoire laisse une large part à l’improvisation et à l’échange avec le percussionniste. Il s’apprend par imitation et mémorisation auprès d’un gurû (« maître »), la tradition orale indienne faisant fi des partitions.

Ses principaux représentants sont actuellement Shivkumar Sharma, Tarun Bhattacharya et Bhajan Sopori.

Le santûr d’Irak

Il est très exactement situé entre l’iranien et l’indien, tant du point de vue structurel que musical. Bien qu’étant l’élément central de l’ensemble classique chalghi (ou tchalghi), il ne survit pratiquement plus que dans la diaspora (juive irakienne) et il est devenu extrêmement rare depuis la guerre du Golfe.

Le santur irakien a une taille (100 cm x 55 cm x 9 cm avec un angle à 50°) et une structure générale intermédiaires (23 à 25 chevalets amovibles supportant, sur des sillets métalliques, 80 à 92 cordes en chœurs de trois, quatre ou cinq).

La caisse de résonance est en noyer, abricotier ou oranger, et la table d’harmonie en hêtre ou en contreplaqué. Des ouïes ou des rosaces importantes à formes variables y sont pratiquées. Les mailloches (madarib ornées parfois de feutre et tenues entre trois doigts) et les chevalets (appelés « gazelles ») sont en chêne. Les chevilles sont placées sur le côté droit. De simples clous maintiennent les cordes sur le côté gauche.

Les chevalets sont organisés de la même manière que pour le santûr iranien, mais au lieu d’avoir deux séries de neuf chevalets, on a une série de onze à droite dont les quatre derniers en bas, sont placés encore plus à droite, assurant des basses profondes, que l’on joue uniquement en frappant à gauche, et une série de douze au centre (ratio 2/3), que l’on joue de part et d’autre.

Il existait autrefois un autre type de santûr en Irak, plus épais, plus petit et aux chevalets fixes, mais il a disparu aujourd’hui

L’accord est diatonique selon les modes irakiens, les maqâmat. Il offre un registre de plus de trois octaves (de Sol3 à La6).

Il se joue posé sur une table, le musicien assis sur une chaise. Rarement joué en solo, il s’intègre plutôt aux petits ensembles interprétant la musique irakienne savante (chalghi composé en outre de djoza, naqqara, nay, oud et riqq) dans les milieux citadins (Bagdad, Mossoul, Bassora, Kirkuk, la diaspora du Caire et de Tel Aviv) où il est parfois joué par des musiciens de la communauté juive[18], et aux ensembles de musique kurde (avec oud et zarb).

Hoogi Patao était l’interprète le plus connu de cet instrument ; Amir El Saffar et Wessam Al-Azzawy lui succèdent aujourd’hui.

Le santur de Turquie

Bien que recensé depuis le XVIIe siècle, ce n’est qu’à la fin du XIXe siècle que le santur se propage en Turquie, surtout dans la région de Smyrne (Izmir), dans les communautés grecque, juive ou tzigane, du fait de la réticence de la communauté musulmane sunnite envers la musique. On en rencontre alors deux types – alafranga et alaturka – appelés tous deux à disparaître au XXe siècle malgré la séduction qu’ils suscitent encore[19]; certaines études récentes tendent pourtant à faire de la Turquie le berceau des santours[20]. On peut se demander d’ailleurs dans quelle mesure le santouri grec diffère du santur turc, au-delà des questions d’accord ?

Le santur alafranga ou fransiz (« des Francs » désignant ici le tambal des Roumains) avait 160 cordes et 32 notes et était surtout joué par des musiciens juifs ou rroms dans des groupes instrumentaux. Très vite les Turcs l’adoptent sous le nom de hamaili santur, et l’adaptent en changeant la place des chevalets et le nombre de cordes (105 et 24 notes). Mais l’insuffisance de ses notes diatoniques le rendant impropre à l’exécution de la musique savante turque, les musiciens le délaissèrent même si certains passionnés composèrent des centaines d’œuvres pour lui.

Le santur alaturka ou turki le remplaça alors ; perdant dans l’étendue de son registre, il gagna dans la variété de ses notes. Il était non seulement chromatique, mais en plus capable de rendre des quarts de tons (comme certains pianos orientaux). Toutefois il était encore très loin d’offrir le nombre de notes suffisant à l’exécution de la musique ottomane qui divise l’octave non pas en douze, mais en vingt-cinq notes minimum.

Des reconstitutions modernes font état d’un instrument ressemblant au santouri par la caisse de résonance, mais avec trois rosaces au lieu de deux, et un système simplifié de chevalets, positionnés comme ceux du santoor indien, mais solidaires, non amovibles et augmentés à leurs côtés, de leviers similaire à deux du qanûn.

Ces instruments n’ont jamais gagné le cœur des musiciens citadins, et sont restés dans les campagnes ou avec les minorités. Aujourd’hui, il n’y a que de très rares interprètes qui comme Oktay Özkazanç, ou le Dr. Ümit Mutlu, continuent de le modifier en le faisant évoluer structurellement, mais achoppent tous devant le même problème du rendu de l’intégralité des notes.

Il a aussi quasiment disparu de Turquie pour des raisons de modulations musicales. En effet, sous la poussée de la musique arabe plus modulante, la musique turque s’est mise en quête d’effets et a donc abandonné un instrument incapable de moduler de manière microtonale, à l’instar du qanûn qui l’a supplanté puisqu’en un clin d’œil, il peut offrir une palette de plusieurs altérations d’une même note, par l’abaissement des petits leviers mandals, ce qui ne gêne guère l’exécution puisqu’il se joue avec des ongles aux doigts et non des baguettes (il semble que ce système soit adapté avec succès à présent).

Le santouri de Grèce

L’instrument, prononcé en grec sanduri (σαντούρι), est le plus récemment apparu (début XIXe siècle). Il est assez différent des précédents et est beaucoup plus grand du fait qu’il est chromatique. Il s’apparente ainsi davantage au cymbalum, notamment par le système complexe des nombreux chevalets ; toutefois son accord — linéaire et non sinueux — le rapproche du santûr diatonique.

Il est très certainement arrivé[21] avec les vagues de réfugiés grecs de l’Empire ottoman, notamment de Smyrne, où il se jouait dans les cafés aman. Concentré sur l’île de Lesbos au départ, il s’est répandu de manière confidentielle dans les îles égéennes (Chios, Imbros, Samos), du Dodécanèse (Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, Nisyros, Leros, Symi), dans les Cyclades (Andros) et sur le continent autour d’Athènes, en Thessalie, en Épire et au Péloponnèse. Du fait de l’influence musicale roumaine et turque, le santouri se rencontre sous deux formes similaires mais à l’accord fort différent : la version insulaire dérive du santur turc, tandis que la version continentale dérive du tambal roumain.

Le santouri grec est imposant par sa taille (100 cm x 60 cm x 10 cm avec angle à 70°) et par la disposition des cordes offrant six sections de jeu. La caisse de résonance est en érable, en hêtre ou en bois de rose laminé ; les côtés sont coupés en deux et recollés en inversant le fil du bois afin d’assurer une meilleure stabilité. La table d’harmonie en épicéa ou en sapin est percée de deux grosses ouïes hexagonales avec sept trous ronds (ou deux grosses rosaces rondes) placées au centre et à gauche de la série de chevalets médians.

Il a environ 115 cordes (en acier, en bronze et en cuivre fileté) disposées en chœurs de 2, 3, 4 ou 5 sur cinq séries de chevalets (non amovibles, reliés par des sillets en métal) composés de barres de soutien creusées pour permettre leurs passages. L’accord est complexe et rend le jeu difficile du fait des croisements lors des changements de série de chevalets. Les chevilles filetées sont placées sur le dessus, à droite, à côté de la table d’harmonie, et non pas sur le côté de la caisse de résonance. Là aussi il faut des calibres de cordes différents pour assurer le rendu correct des harmoniques de l’échelle chromatique.

Les mailloches sont imposantes (25 cm), lourdes, toujours entourées d’étoupe à l’extrémité, afin de feutrer le son, et jouées avec les poignets, bien que tenues penchées, entre deux ou trois doigts (autrefois on en jouait aussi avec les avant-bras, d’un peu plus loin, avec les baguettes tenues droites, dans lesquelles étaient creusés des trous pour les index).

L’accord est chromatique avec deux variantes de disposition : l’une qui reprend les modes diatoniques grecs hérités de l’Empire ottoman, les dromois ; l’autre reprend l’accord du tambal roumain. Il offre un registre de 3 octaves et demie (du Fa3 au Si6).

Il se joue soit assis, posé sur une table devant soi ou sur les genoux, soit debout, suspendu à hauteur de hanches par une sangle passée au cou du musicien. Sa palette est aussi bien mélodique qu’harmonique ; il se prête autant au solo, qu’au duo ou à l’accompagnement. Avec ou sans partitions, on y joue tout autant le folklore dansant de la musique grecque, que le smyrneiko ou le rébétiko, ou encore la musique ottomane. L’improvisation compte beaucoup et elle peut être soit selon le taksim turc, soit selon la doina de la musique roumaine.

Certains artistes ont tenté de développer un style de jeu à quatre mailloches. Certains facteurs d’instruments ont tenté de développer aussi des versions basse ou soprano.

Parmi les musiciens contemporains on note Aristides Moschos et Tasos Diakoyiogis, auxquels on ne manquera pas d’ajouter un personnage haut en couleur :

« Depuis que j’ai appris à jouer du santouri, je suis devenu un autre homme ». Alexis Zorba.

Les instruments apparentés

Le santour a connu un destin complexe tant en Asie, qu’en Europe ou en Amérique, adoptant d’autres dénominations et caractéristiques[23]. On rencontre aussi à présent des santours électro-acoustiques (avec caisse de résonance amplifiée), voire électriques (sans caisse de résonance). Enfin, le sur santoor[24] inventé récemment, n’a plus rien à voir avec le santour, si ce n’est sa forme, car il se joue avec les doigts.

* Cymbalum (Biélorussie, Hongrie, Lettonie, Lituanie, Moldavie, Pologne, Roumanie,
Slovaquie, Tchéquie, Ukraine)
* Dan tam thâp luc (Viêt Nam)
* Dulce melos (France)
* Hackbrett (Suisse, Autriche, Allemagne, Slovénie)
* Hammered dulcimer (Irlande, Royaume-Uni, États-Unis, Australie)
* Khim (Thaïlande, Laos)
* Khom (Cambodge)
* Rgyud mang (Tibet)
* Salterio (Italie)
* Tchang (Ouzbékistan, Turkestan)
* Tympanon (France)
* Yanggeum (Corée)
* Yangqin (Chine, Bhoutan)
* Yochin (Mongolie)


1.  (de) Tobias Norlind, Systematik der Saiteninstrumente, Geschichte der Zither, Stockholm, 1963.
2.  (en) Wayne Jackson, “Psallo” and the Instrumental Music Controversy, 2004
3.  (en) Alexander Buchner, Folk Music Instruments of the World, Prague, 1971.
4.  (en) David Kettlewell, The Dulcimer, PhD thesis. History and playing traditions around the world, 1976.
5.  Jean During, La musique iranienne : Tradition et évolution, A.D.P.F., Paris, 1984.
6.  (en) O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the Ivory Curtains of the Christian Era .. in the .. British Museum, London, 1909.
7.  (en) Stanley Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, Oxford, 1984.
8.  Alain Chaoulli, Les musiciens juifs en Iran aux XIXe et XXe siècles, L’Harmattan, 2006.
9.  Amnon Shiloah & Cyril Aslanov, Les traditions musicales juives, Maisonneuve & Larose, 1995.
10.  Yann Richard, Entre l’Iran et l’Occident : adaptation et assimilation des idées et techniques occidentales en Iran, Éditions MSH, 1989.
11.  J.N.K., Les instruments de musique traditionnels Arméniens
12.  (en) Javad Naini, Introducing the Persian Santur.
13.  Jean During, La musique iranienne : Tradition et évolution, A.D.P.F., Paris, 1984.
14.  (en) B. C. Deva, Musical Instruments of India, Calcutta, 1978.
15.  (en) K. Ayyappapanicker, Medieval Indian Literature, An Anthology, Sahitya Akademi, 1997.
16.  (en) Sandeep Bagchee, Nâd, understanding Râga Music, Mumbai, 1998.
17.  Schéhérazade Qassim Hassan, Les instruments de musique en Iraq, EHESS, Paris, 1980.
18.  (en) Yeheskel Kojaman, Jewish Role in Iraqi Music, 1972.
19.  (en) Dr Umit Mutlu, The santouri in Turkey.
20.  (en) David Kettlewell, The Dulcimer, PhD thesis. History and playing traditions around the world, 1976.
21.  (en) Pav Verity, Santouri Article, 2003.
22.  Nikos Kazantzakis, Alexis Zorba, Paris, Plon, 1963.
23.  (en) David Kettlewell, The Dulcimer, PhD thesis. History and playing traditions around the world, 1976.
24.  (en) Sur santoor

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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