Category Archives: lessons

Posts about dulcimercrossing lessons, free stuff, learning mountain and hammered dulcimers

Traditional Noter and Drone Style Lessons

Traditional Noter and Drone Style Lessons

by Linda Ratcliff

Traditional Noter Style


Many mountain dulcimer players play their instruments by pressing the fatty pads of their fingertips down on the strings to create the different notes. But there is another option.

The traditional, old-time way of playing a mountain dulcimer is to use a noter. Your noter can be anything from the broad side of a popsicle stick to a wooden dowel – or anything around the house that can be used to press down on the strings.

In this series of 14 videos, Steve introduces the traditional noter/drone style of playing, shows us some of the tools (noters) that he uses, and explains how to use the noter with different tunings. Listen to Steve play a spirited rendition of Golden Slippers with his noter and quill, and check out the titles of the videos right here.

Holy Manna, O Susannah, Joy to the World, Old Joe Clark and Shady Grove are used to demonstrate noter playing with different tunings.


Posted by on March 12, 2014 in lessons, mountain dulcimer


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DulcimerCrossing Festival Scholarships

DulcimerCrossing Festival Scholarships

by Steve Eulberg & Linda Ratcliff

At we believe in supporting all the ways that students learn to play the music that is in their hearts.  Some people learn better in the privacy of their homes, some with an individual tutor, and some learn best when immersed in a setting that is chock-FULL of music, with people who are engaged in the same pursuit as they are.

For this reason, DulcimerCrossing has provided some full and partial scholarships to selected weekend and week-long dulcimer-learning events this year.

It has been our request that the scholarships be distributed and administered by each individual festival (and anonymously to us) but we requested that, if possible, they provide support for: a YOUTH participant, and a TEACHER to come and further develop their skills.

Please contact each individual festival or weekend to inquire about their application process for these scholarships.


The Colorado Dulcimer Festival (both mountain and hammered)


The Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering (mountain only)


Kentucky Music Week (both mountain and hammered)


Western Carolina University Dulcimer Week (mountain only)


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New Lesson: So You Want to be Heard?

New Lesson: So You Want to be Heard?

by Steve Eulberg

Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer.

Steve adds a sample from a new lesson series about Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer in the Mountain Dulcimer Skills section of the DulcimerCrossing website.

This sample lesson from that series that describes and demonstrates the use of a contact pickup and the combination of that pickup with a microphone.

A similar lesson series for amplifying the hammered dulcimer is in development.


Posted by on February 16, 2014 in lessons, mountain dulcimer, subscriber news


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Orphan Girl: New Chromatic Dulcimer Lesson!

Orphan Girl
by Linda Ratcliff

For Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Players
“Orphan Girl” was written by Gillian Welch, whose musical style combines elements of bluegrass, neotraditional country, Americana, old time string band music and folk into a rustic style that she dubs “American Primitive.” Gillian and David Rawlings included “Orphan Girl” in their debut album, “Revival,” in 1996. This song is somewhat autobiographical, as Gillian was adopted on the day she was born, and spiritual as none of us will be orphans when we finally sit at the Father’s table in heaven.

This lesson is taught by Erin Rogers on the chromatic mountain dulcimer. You can see the lesson descriptions here with a video of Orphan Girl performed by Scenic Roots (our own Erinwith her sister Amber).


Any New Year’s Resolutions?
Every year, my New Year’s Resolution is to practice my hammered dulcimer more often. How about you?

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,


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What to Do….when you’re snowed in.

by Linda Ratcliff

snowedinMost of you know I live full time in an RV. At the campground where we stay, they don’t believe in plowing. And we live at the low end of the park. Early January, there was ice – on top of snow – on top of ice, with NO hope it would be cleared and we didn’t even try to get out. Now most of you would have used that gift of time to practice your dulcimers. But I began going through our lessons one by one, and found some ways to make improvements.

•Right now, videos are loaded in a jukebox style – such as you see in this screen shot of Orphan Girl.  In addition, I will be linking each video to its own webpage, to facilitate access for mobile device users.


•I found a better system for converting flash animations to videos for our mobile device users. One by one, I’m reformatting those animations.

•We have been building the Dulcimer Crossing website for 5 years now and, through trial and error, continue to learn better ways of presenting the lessons. We will be re-taping some of the early videos so all the lessons will have the same look and feel. This is a long-term project that may take a year. If there is a particular lesson you would like to see us revise sooner than later – give us a shout. If you want to see which lessons have already been revised, click here.

Angeline the Baker

•This week we added the tablature and animations for our D-A-A lesson on Angeline the Baker, taught by Steve Eulberg for mountain dulcimer players.

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering, Linda


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How to Choose a Hammered Dulcimer

How to Choose a Hammered Dulcimer

Criteria for Purchasing a Hammered Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg & Linda Ratcliff


Steve playing a Prelude for an Ordination service.

We are fortunate to live in the midst of a sustained dulcimer revival!

Today, not only are there kits available for you to build your own, there are a good number of quality builders who have refined the process and are able to make instruments that are reliably good from instrument to instrument and who stand behind their work.

In addition, there are also a good number craft or artisan builders who focus on building to order or one-of-a-kind instruments.

Finally, there is an active re-selling market from people who are trading up, trading down or simply desirous of others playing the instruments.

Here are the criteria I use and suggest to my students when they ask me what they should look for in purchasing a hammered dulcimer.

1.  Beware of DSOs!  (Dulcimer-Shaped-Objects)

At the beginning of the dulcimer revival in the late 1960s and 1970s many people began building instruments that were shaped like dulcimers but were ultimately unplayable.  How can you be sure you DON’T have one of these?

a.  The soundboard isn’t warped or cracked.

b.  The tuning pins are not stuck and can actually change the pitches of the strings, so the instrument is tunable.

c.  Even more importantly:  The tuning pins can hold the strings in tune.  If an instrument cannot stay in tune, or requires you to re-tune it every few minutes will be one you will not play.

If these criteria are met and you have some other issues, they are probably easy and inexpensive fixes.  Sometimes you can find an old treasure, but remember that you might have to sift through several that are better used as wall art than as musical instruments to find these.


Linda playing at the Butterfly Palace

Our next piece of advice is to purchase as much dulcimer as you can afford.  Consider more than price alone.  You don’t want to get an instrument that you’ll grow out of too quickly.

The next criteria have to do with construction and design:

2.  Floating or Fixed Soundboard?

The soundboard is the piece of wood upon which the bridges rest and which transfer the vibrations of the strings to the rest of the instrument.  In the hammered dulcimer world there are two primary designs for this piece of the instrument.

A Floating Soundboard sits on top of the box which is the rest of the instrument and when the strings are removed, can be lifted off.

A Fixed Soundboard is glued to the body of the instrument and cannot be removed.

What is the difference?  Some builders and players say the Floating Soundboard results in a shorter length of sustain when the notes are played which helps with clarity for faster tunes.  I have played both kinds of don’t have an opinion on this design difference.

3.  Solid wood or laminate top?

A solid wood soundboard (or top) will improve the tone of the instrument with age and playing.  A laminate (plywood) top will have the same tone from the day it is built.  There is cost savings when using a laminate for the soundboard.

4.  Tone

There are many words to describe the tone or timbre of an instrument, but in many cases they are used imprecisely.  The type of wood chosen for the sound board, coupled with the wood choice for sides and back and internal bracing will be instrumental (no pun intended) in determining the tone.  I have heard people use these words to describe the tone of different instruments:  bright, dark, warm, sweet, muddy, thick, clear, thin, tinny, rich.  

In our opinion, this is the single most important criteria in choosing an instrument.

5.  Sustain

Hammered dulcimers are known for their sustain, or how long the notes ring after they are struck.  This is in part due to the sympathetic vibration of all the other strings of the same pitch, but is compounded by the sympathetic vibrations of the overtones of each pitch.

The type of soundboard, the design (floating or fixed soundboard), the internal bracing, the choice of hammers and the choice of tune type all have an effect on the amount sustain you will prefer.  In general, slow airs and hymns can sound wonderful on and instrument with more sustain, and faster fiddle tunes, jigs and reels will sound more wonderful with less sustain. Rick Thum has focused on building instruments for this criteria.

[Note:  Some people add the option of dampers to their instrument to be able to have more control over sustain while playing.]

6.  Number of notes/Strings per Course

The next thing that determines price is size:  how many courses of strings does it have (courses are sets of strings that are tuned to the same pitch. We have seen instruments that have between 1-4 strings per course.)
A smaller instrument will have 12 or 13 on the Treble (left) bridge and 11 0r 12 on the Bass (right) bridge.  That will give you about 2-1/2 octaves of the keys of G and A.  This is called a 12/11 or 13/12.
That Standard Sizes are 15/14 or 16/15 which give you about 3 octaves of the keys of D and E.
Then there are instruments that are called chromatic which have some bridge adjustments in the higher register to be fully chromatic for a longer range.
Finally, there are instruments that have 4 and more octaves which have a larger body size and have super bass bridges for the lower notes.

7.  String Spacing?

Another factor to consider is the spacing between the courses.  Some builders build with a broader spacing (e.g. David Lindsey), some with a tighter spacing (e.g. James Jones).  The tighter spacing usually requires hammers with smaller heads in order to be more accurate.  The broader spacing can be more forigiving, but generally adds more size the the box of the instrument.

8.  Weight/Heft

The weight of the instrument is a definite consideration, depending upon the size and stature of the player, whether or not this will be a “parlour” or stay-at-home instrument or one which travels to lessons and festivals and vacations.  The larger the instrument (which gives you more notes to play) usually the heavier the instrument is.  Some builders have been pioneering lighter and lighter instruments, (Masterworks is an example of a builder who is doing this) so shop around.

9. Tuning Scheme

In the United States we have encountered the following Tune Schemes:  5th Tuned, Octave Bass, Piano Dulcimer, and Chord-Based tunings.

5th-Tuned is by far the most common at this point in history across much of the USA.  The relationship of the notes between and across the bridges is is the interval of a 5th.

Octave Bass is more common in Michigan.  Bill Webster builds a lot of these instruments.  The Treble bridge is 5th tuned but the Bass Bridge has notes an octave lower than those on the right side of the Treble Bridge.

The Piano Dulcimer is one of two chromatic tunings that is gaining a foothold.  Sam Rizzetta designed this style (built by Dusty Strings.)  The bridge caps match the white and black keys of a piano and the tuning is chromatic in a linear fashion.

The Linear Chromatic (designed and built by James Jones) seeks to achieve a similar purpose, but is designed like a 5th-Tuned instrument with the chromatic notes included between the expected diatonic ones.

Chord-Based Tunings are those used by our teachers Linda Thomas and Bill Robinson, where the Bass bridge is tuned to notes that help with playing certain chords.


These are several of the criteria to balance when choosing an instrument.

LindaHDBlueMorphButterflyWe suggest that you play as many instruments from different builders that you can.  Festivals are an excellent chance to see the instruments from many builders.  Talk with every hammered dulcimer player there.  Ask them:

“What do you love and not love about your instrument?”

“Which instrument do you dream about and why?”

“Can I play yours please?”

In our experience, dulcimer players LOVE to talk about their instruments and allow other players to try them out.

In the end, you’ll need to save your shekels and purchase the instrument that can help you play the sweet music in your soul.  If we can help, let us know!


Posted by on December 13, 2013 in hammered dulcimer, lessons, subscriber news


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DulcimerCrossing & Music Education

bBoardNotes3As former public school educators, Linda Ratcliff and Steve Eulberg, have designed the website to support Music Educators, students and Homeschool students and teachers.

The National Association for Music Education has created nationwide standards for musical education for the United States of America. lessons are designed to equip students to be successful in demonstrating their proficiency on 6 of these 9 standards.

You can read more about our goals here, or at the link below:

As always if you have ideas, suggestions and questions about using the lessons at, please contact Linda or Steve.


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Comparing the Chromatic and Diatonic Fretboards

In this FREE SAMPLE LESSON from, Guest Instructor, Erin Rogers, compares the Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Fretboard with the (close to standard) Diatonic Freboard.

This is the first in Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Lesson Series on our site.

And I just found this treasure:  David Beede, the maker of Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer filmed some video on its actual “Birthday”!  Take a look:

Erin will be teaching in Winfield at the Warm-Up Picnic on Saturday, Sept 14, 2013 and Master Class Workshops for the Walnut Valley Festival next Wednesday, Sept 18th, in Winfield.  Then she and her sister, Amber, together known as Scenic Roots, will be featured Performers at the Festival!


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Duet with Hammered Dulcimer Lead

Linda Thomas, one of our guest instructors at, plays a fine duet with Dan Delancey.

Here the hammered dulcimer takes the lead.  Linda also teaches the entire tune on our site, together with tasteful hammered dulcimer backup to Dan’s smooth guitar-picking lead.


Linda Thomas Interview (an excerpt)

When Linda Thomas and Dan Delancey were in our studio to film lessons, we had a chance to ask some questions and find out more about Linda and how she began playing the hammered dulcimer.

Here is an excerpt of the interview:

The entire interview can be viewed on our website here.


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