ASA 127th Meeting M.I.T. 1994 June 6-10

5pMU1. Acoustics of the hammered dulcimer, its history, and recent developments.

David R. Peterson

Univ. of Central Arkansas, Conway, AR 72035

Northern Illinois Univ., DeKalb, IL 60115

Thomas D. Rossing

Gregory H. Canfield

Northern Illinois Univ., DeKalb, IL 60115

Hammered dulcimers (e.g., santir, psanterim, psalterion) have been known in the Near East for about 5000 years. From the Near East, the instrument traveled west to Europe and east to China and Korea. The most elaborate of dulcimers is the cimbalom, developed in Hungary in the 19th century and used by Hungarian gypsies as a concert instrument. Brought from England to the New World in colonial times, the hammered dulcimer became popular in New England, the Appalachians, the lumber camps of Maine and Michigan, and the southern states. The hammered dulcimer, an ancestor of the piano, has changed significantly in the last 15 years. Since the instrument does not have mechanical dampers, builders have attempted to reduce decay times by changing bridge caps, slotting bridges, reducing weight and stiffness, and reducing soundboard impedance. Changes in string arrangements and soundboard bracing have resulted in stronger sound in the bass. Unlike a piano, in which the hammers consistently strike the same position on the strings, the hammered dulcimer player strikes the strings at varying distances from the bridge. During the brief contact time, this creates a short string segment that drives the bridge at frequencies considerably higher than the string fundamental. Thus the attack characteristics and spectral frequencies are greatly influenced by the hardness of the hammer and the strike position.