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Representation of an angel with a dulcimer in Himmelkron Monastery
Dulcimer after Virdung 1511
An English-style diatonic dulcimer ( hammered dulcimer )
An electric dulcimer

The dulcimer is a type of box zither , the strings of which are struck with mallets. The clapper or mallet are made of wood and can be covered with leather or felt . Chopping boards are stringed instruments that are also classified as percussion instruments based on the type of sound they produce . Regionally different forms of chopping boards are common between North America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle and Far East. The German term “dulcimer” is understood in a narrower sense to mean variations in shape that are at home in alpine folk music .


The instrument can be trapezoidal , semi-trapezoidal, rectangular or winged. Modern instruments have the shape of an isosceles trapezoid . Metal strings usually run over two bridges . Usually two, three or more strings are grouped per tone, so the dulcimer has two, three, four or five courses. The strings are tuned with tuning pegs. The design and choice of mallets have a major impact on the timbre. To achieve special effects you can also pluck the strings with your fingers ( pizzicato ).


The Bavarian dulcimer player Rudi Zapf

The dulcimer may have come to Europe from the Byzantine Empire , but there is little evidence of its existence before the mid-15th century. The oldest known illustration that can be reliably identified as a dulcimer is a medallion on the ivory lid of the Byzantine Melisende Psalter , which is dated around 1140. It shows King David striking a trapezoidal string instrument with two sticks. A direct organological reference to the rectangular chopping boards, which appeared in Central Europe 300 years later, at the beginning of the 15th century, is doubtful. An independent European development of this type with this style of play is more likely.

Paul M. Gifford (2001) believes that the prerequisite for striking strings is a drawn steel wire, which has only existed since the 14th century. Forged wire is unsuitable for musical instruments, and gut strings give a better sound when plucked. However, an influence from the Middle East seems likely for one of the forerunners of the chopping board, the psaltery . Gifford dates the psaltery to the 11th century; for the reasons mentioned above, it was plucked rather than struck.

The version that developed from the Psaltery in France was called doulcemèr in French , this name probably comes from the Latin dulce melos , "sweet song" or "lovely sound". In the English-speaking world the dulcimer is still dulcimer . Apparently, however, the German design became more popular than the French. The dulcimer has been unequivocally documented since 1370 in a series of Central European representations as an elongated bass instrument that was initially covered with only one and later with up to three strings. The body of the instrument was leaned against the shoulder while playing. This Central European (German) dulcimer developed from the string drum , the tambourin à cordes or string tambourine , an instrument struck with a stick, often with only one string, which is still played today in Provence by musicians who also use this instrument and play a one-handed flute ( galoubet ). This is how the dulcimer mostly played today emerged.

Around 1450 the terms Dulce Melos (Latin treatises), Doulcemer and Hackbrett (1447 in a Zurich council book) are used. A copper engraving from 1470 shows a further developed instrument, played by a lady of higher rank. It is equipped with four strings over two dividing bars and thus expanded to one and a half octaves ( diatonic tuning). "Dulce Melos" is the name of the chopping board in the Latin scholarly language of the 15th century. It can first be found in an untitled manuscript by the doctor and astronomer Heinrich-Arnold von Zwolle , written around 1440 in Dijon. It deals with the harp, organ, harpsichord and clavichord. The dulce melos also mentioned is a stringed instrument that is struck with a stick ("cum baculum fit contactus cordarum"). The same name appears in the "Tractatus de musica" (written around 1460) by Paulus Paulirinus de Praga . According to this, the Dulce Melos was a rectangular instrument with a sound opening, over whose soundboard metal strings were stretched. If these were struck with a stick ( ligniculo ) or a plectrum ( penna ), the sweetest tones and sounds would result.

As early as 1512, an altarpiece by the Dutch painter Oostzanen attests to the alternating stringing over a dividing bridge and through its openings. The picture by Virdung (1511) shown above also gives an idea of ​​this stringing.


Under the name Dulcimer dulcimer 1470 in England is detectable, the American variant hammered dulcimer since the beginning of the 18th century known. It differs from the Appalachian dulcimer , a slender American drone zither. The Iranian dulcimer santur was first depicted in the 17th century, but its name is older. In the 1950s, the santoor found its way into North Indian classical music. The Thai dulcimer is called khim . From the 18th century, box zithers struck with mallets probably came from Europe to China ( Yang-Qin ). Another theory is that the Iranian variant of the chopping board ( santur ) took the overland route via Central Asia. However, this is contradicted by the fact that the vortices of the Yang-Qin are attached to the beveled cover plate, as in the European dulcimer, but are attached to the flank of the Iranian and Iraqi Santoor. From China it spread to Korea ( Yanggum ), Japan ( Sangen Dakin ), Vietnam and Cambodia ( Khîm ).

The Eastern European cymbal was first recorded in Hungary in the middle of the 16th century. It has also been used by Jewish traveling musicians since 1637, who toast the Bohemian cymbal tradition in Prague . In the course of the 17th century, traveling musicians of various origins brought the instrument to the Ukraine and Belarus as a bandura . The development of the then legendary Pantalonian cymbal 1697 by Pantaleon Hebenstreit is based on Bohemian tradition. It was about four times the size of the normal dulcimer, had a double soundboard and used both metal and gut strings.

In 1717 the English dulcimer gained a foothold on the coast of North America, at the same time it is being adapted in China as Yangqin (yang ch'in, foreign zither). Meanwhile, the dulcimer in the shape of the Salterio ( salterio tedesco , literally German psaltery) found its way into Italian and Spanish baroque music . After hesitant beginnings, the dulcimer became very fashionable in some regions of Austria (Carinthia, Salzkammergut, East Tyrol and Styria) in the course of the 18th century.

In 1874 Venczel József Schunda in Budapest invented the very successful pedal cymbalon , or cymbal for short , in chromatic tuning and a string structure similar to the Salzburg dulcimer, but partly still diatonic . Shortly before the Second World War , Tobi Reiser from Salzburg and the instrument maker Heinrich Bandzauner developed a fully chromatic dulcimer without dividers, which is one of the 6 plus 6 instruments .


The common names for dulcimer in different countries can be divided into groups:

  1. "Hackbrett" indicates on the one hand the striking technique, on the other hand the design: hakkebord or hakbord (Dutch), hakkebraedt (Danish), hackbräde (Swedish).
  2. Hammered dulcimer is the Anglicization of dulce melos and means "lovely sound"
  3. Pointing to the beat technique as with the timpani ( tympani ): tympanon (French), timpan or tiompan (Irish).
  4. Striking technique as with cymbals (Latin cimbala , cymbala ): cymbale (French), cymbali (Russian), cymbalki (Polish), cimbalo (Serbo-Croatian), cimbolai (Lithuanian), cimbalom (Hungarian); compare harpsichord .

The traditional Italian name Salterio Tedesco (literally “German Psalterium”) for the dulcimer indicates the opinion widespread in Italy that the actually plucked psaltery is mainly struck north of the Alps.

Alpine forms

  • Styrian dulcimer : tuned diatonic , with fifth and bass bridge. In dance music it plays an important role as a rhythm and harmony instrument. The fifth bridge divides the strings stretched over it in a ratio of 2 to 3. On the same string you will hear about a c on the right and a g on the left. The dulcimer by Virdung shown above shows this structure as early as 1511. The Valais dulcimer is constructed in a similar way. It is played with bare (or leather-covered) wooden sticks.
  • Slovenian dulcimer : structured similar to the Styrian dulcimer.
  • East Tyrolean dulcimer : tuned diatonic, but higher and larger body, heavier steel strings than the Styrian dulcimer. Equipped with small, additional bridges (called “faster”, “pedals” or lead tone hinges), you can quickly tune a string choir by shortening it by half a tone higher.
  • Appenzell dulcimer ( Switzerland ): In the Appenzeller dulcimer, the strings are half divided by a bridge, partly into fifths and partly into sixths , andare arranged chromatically overall. It is beaten with special mallets called "rods".
  • Salzburg dulcimer : tuned chromatically. Newly developedfor Alpine folk music by the Salzburg folk musician Tobi Reiser and the instrument maker Heinrich Bandzauner (according to Reiser's report, seen around 1920 at a Styrian woodworker) and rebuilt in 1927 based on the model of an East Tyrolean chopping board (38 kilograms, the body reinforced with iron bars): instead diatonic it has a chromatic atmosphere, in which the strings as the keys in the Neuklaviatur of Heinrich Josef Vincent are arranged. Instead of bare wooden sticks, it is covered with felt . As a quieter instrument, it is mainly used in so-called " room music ".
  • Walliser dulcimer (Switzerland): The Walliser dulcimer is tuned diatonic with a fifth and bass bridge. The basic principle is the same as with the Styrian dulcimer. A clever mechanism also makes it possible to shorten the length of all sides so that they sound half a tone higher. So it is easily possible to play in all different keys or also chromatically.

Compositions in Art Music of the 18th Century

  • Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote two dulcimer parts in his opera Le cadi dupé ( The cheated Kadi , 1761).
  • Paolo Salulini : Concerto in G major for Salterio, strings and continuo (1751)
  • Niccolò Jommelli : Sinfonia in G major for salterio, strings and continuo
  • In his Sinfonia in D major, The Peasant Wedding (1755), Leopold Mozart did not use the dulcimer in concert, but to create the peasant color. He wrote to his publisher in Augsburg: "Here is the 'farmer's wedding' ... It would be good if you also had a dulcimer or cymbal with it ..." . Hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes are also included in this piece .
  • Carlo Monza : Sonata in C major and G major for dulcimer and continuo
  • Melchior Chiesa : Sonata in G major and C major for dulcimer and continuo
  • Antonio Vivaldi wrote a Salterio part for the aria "Ho nel petto un cor si forte" of his opera Giustino (1724).

With the invention of the hammer piano , the mechanism of which took over the striking of strings with a hammer, the dulcimer disappeared from European art music for some time.

Compositions in modern art music

In some root regions of the chopping board, e.g. B. Hungary, Belarus and Upper Bavaria wrote and write academic composers for the instrument, for example:

  • Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971): Ragtime and Renard for ensembles with cymbals
  • Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967): Háry János Suite for orchestra with cymbal
  • Günter Bialas (1907–1995): Small Suite (1990) for 2 dulcimer players
  • Bertold Hummel (1925–2002): Fantasia poetica (in memoriam Wolfgang Borchert ) for dulcimer and viola. - Work introduction: Work descriptions Opus 101B
  • György Kurtág (* 1926): Chamber music works with cymbals
  • Peter Kiesewetter (1945–2012): Chamber music works with dulcimer instruments; together with the interpreter Birgit Stolzenburg (* 1959) and the instrument maker Klemens Kleitsch development of a double bass dulcimer
  • Roland Leistner-Mayer (* 1945): Trio for dulcimer, clarinet and violoncello op.85 (1995), Six aveux d'amour for dulcimer solo (op.93, 1997), Poem VII for dulcimer and viola (op.96, 1998), On the adventure playground . 14 dulcimer duets for students and teachers (op. 100, 1998), a musical journey across the Danube . 9 pieces for dulcimer duo ( op.103 , 1999), Fleur parmi Èpines for dulcimer, clarinet, viola and double bass ( op.122 , 2004), Impromptu for Herbert Baumann for dulcimer and piano (op.118d, 2005), Concertino semiserio for 4 dulcimer and recorder quartet (op. 236, 2008), Concertino for dulcimer and string orchestra op. 125 (2005/09); all of these works by Leistner-Mayer have been published by Vogt & Fritz publishing house in Schweinfurt.
  • Nikolaus Brass (* 1949): No I (1997) for flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, dulcimer, piano, violin, viola and violoncello
  • Rudi Spring (* 1962): invocations and other chamber works with various dulcimer instruments, partly in naturtöniger mood
  • Vladimir Kuryan rewrote his Concertino for harpsichord and string orchestra for the young Belarusian soloist Alexandra Denisenya; she played it u. a. at the Eurovision Young Musicians 2012 competition.

Rock music

  • The medieval metal band In Extremo is known for the frequent use of the instrument.
  • John Barry used a dulcimer for the main melody in the theme tune of the television series The Persuaders (German title Die 2 ), which became famous through the participation of Roger Moore and Tony Curtis .
  • Marillion use the instrument on their 2009 acoustic album Less Is More .
  • The Australian band Dead Can Dance often uses a dulcimer for their music.

Country & Western Music


In the Appenzeller Space Schöttl , Töbi Tobler focused on the dulcimer.

pop music

  • On the album Post by the Icelandic singer Björk , she is only accompanied by a dulcimer on the title Cover Me .
  • Impala Ray uses guitar, percussion, dulcimer and tuba.

History of the dulcimer pedagogy

Until well into the 17th century nothing is known about educational activities in the dulcimer area. Such as Even today, dulcimer pedagogy is likely to have exhausted itself in amateur instructions from the immediate environment of beginners. The first professional dulcimer teacher was Pantaleon Hebenstreit . Self-taught himself, he had to train Max Hellmann, who was sent to Dresden by the emperor, on his huge pantaleon , which required five years of apprenticeship.

In 1754 the first booklet in the history of the chopping board was published. It comes from Minguet y Irol, is written for the southern Salterio and deals exclusively with the technique of plucking. After it was completely out of use around 1800, the work only had a very short-lived existence.

From the middle of the 19th century, dulcimer pedagogy really got going: In 1848 C. Haight published his “Complete System for the Dulcimer” in America, Joszef Schunda added methodical instructions to the pedal cymbalons he introduced in 1874, and in 1886 C. Roylance published his booklet How to Learn the Dulcimer in London .

The upswing then slowed down significantly: China did not follow suit until 1920 with the “Yue-diao-qin-zue-bian” dulcimer school, and the Belarusian version of Zhinovich was a long time coming after the Second World War.

In 1951 Walter Kainz from Voitsberg brought out a school for the Styrian dulcimer for the first time, " Dulcimer Fibel, A Guide to Striking the Styrian Dulcimer ", several editions. This school was later renewed and expanded by Max Rosenzopf from Bärnbach .

During this time a new kind of dulcimer began to spread in Austria and Upper Bavaria, which had been developed by Tobi Reiser shortly before the war: the instrument known today as the “Salzburg dulcimer” without dividers and in a fully chromatic tuning. Of course it took some time to get used to this innovation, but from the 1960s onwards, multi-volume instructional works were published in quick succession, first in 1978 by the Munich dulcimer lecturer Karl-Heinz Schickhaus, then by his successor Birgit Stolzenburg ("Pizz und Batt") Volume 1-4, 1997/98).

In 1979 Peter Pickow published a textbook: Hammered Dulcimer. A complete guide to the hammered dulcimer for the beginning and the advanced player , Music Sales Corporation Nex Yord, London, Sydney.

In 1984 another English textbook appeared: " Playing the Hammered Dulcimer in the Irish Tradition ", by Karen Ashbrook, in the same publisher.

In 2002 a jazz pedagogical textbook for the Salzburg dulcimer by Günter Ebel was published: Swinging Strings, Volume 1 - From syllable speaking to jazz music, Verlag vierdreiunddreissig, Munich.


In Budapest, Minsk and Beijing, the dulcimer in its respective country-specific appearance has been included in academic teaching, as well as in Bavaria and Austria.

Collections of historical chopping boards in Germany

Despite massive war losses, Germany still has the most abundant inventory of historical chopping boards. After the war losses, the Instrument Museum in Berlin only has eight copies (before the war 26), the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, however, still has 16 from what was once 25. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg has the largest collection in Europe with 31 copies plus five Have a pair of mallets. You can find out more about the holdings on the museum's website (unfortunately without any illustration).

See also


  • Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser : Folk music and folk music instruments in art music in Switzerland with special emphasis on the chopping board . In: Folk music in the Alps. Intercultural horizons and crossovers . ed. by Thomas Nussbaumer, Mueller-Speiser Verlag, Anif 2006.
  • Paul Gifford: The Hammered Dulcimer - A History . Lanham, Maryland and London 2001.
  • Gerlinde Haid : dulcimer. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 2, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-7001-3044-9 .
  • Emanuel Krucker: The dulcimer - 30 moods, origins and developments . Bichwil Gonten 2013.
  • Karl Klier: Popular musical instruments in the Alps . Kassel 1956.
  • John Henry van der Meer , Brigitte Geiser, Karl-Heinz Schickhaus: The dulcimer: an alpine musical instrument. Schläpfer & Co., Herisau / Trogen 1975.
  • Amadé Salzmann: The dulcimer in Valais. Instrument making and instructions . Visp 1988.
  • Balint Sarosi: The Folk Musical Instruments of Hungary . Leipzig 1967.
  • Karl-Heinz Schickhaus: About folk music and dulcimer in Bavaria . BLV Munich 1981.
  • Karl-Heinz Schickhaus: The dulcimer. History & stories. Episode 1 Austria . Tympanum St. Oswald 2001.
  • Karl-Heinz Schickhaus: The dulcimer. History & stories. Episode 2 Germany . Tympanum St. Oswald 2002.

Web links

Wiktionary: dulcimer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Hammered dulcimers  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Reinhard Tafferner: The dulcimer in early music. In: Hackbrett-Informations,, No. 27, 2012, p. 4
  2. History of the chopping board ( Memento of the original dated February 7, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.cutedogmusic.com
  3. Musica Alpina? On the interculturality of folk music in the Alps
  4. In: "Singer and musicians newspaper", Bayerischer Landwirtschaftsverlag, Munich, volume 4/1959
  5. Text also on the Internet: 'How the dulcimer came to new life' by Tobi Reiser ( Memento of the original from September 3, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.hackbrett.de
  6. Biography Alexandra Denisenya ( Memento from June 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  7. Liner notes in the booklet for the Marillion album Less = More