The word dulcimer is believed to have originated
centuries ago. It was derived, it is thought, from the greek word "dulce"
(which means sweet) and the latin word "melos" (which means
song). The Appalachian Dulcimer is not to be confused with its biblical
counterpart, the hammered dulcimer, rather in its current incarnation, it is
believed to have evolved from a northern European instrument, the German, "scheitholt"
which like the Appalachian Dulcimer is played with a bow and plucked or strummed
as well. The instrument is found in many European cultures, Sweden, Holland, in
various forms. In each of these countries the instrument took on local
characteristics . It is believed that this "scheitholt" made it
to Appalachia toward the end of the 18th century, and once again it evolved and
was modified to suit the needs of the local players.
It is commonly thought that the Appalachian dulcimer was
widely used throughout the mountains and hollows of the Appalachian area. But,
technically the experts believe that in its heyday and prior to its recent
reintroduction to folk music, there were perhaps as few as 1,000 dulcimers
throughout the whole region. There are as many shapes and styles of dulcimers as
there are players and mountain craftsmen. Except for adhering to a few basic
conventions, the builder was free to explore options and possibilities in the
creation of the dulcimer.