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Instruments we love and play:

Mountain Dulcimer | Hammered Dulcimer | Autoharp | Mandolin | Claw Hammer Banjo | Guitar | Cloud Nine Marimbula | Bull Fiddle |Ukulele | Bodhran and other Percussion Harmonica | Penny Whistle | Fiddle


Folk- Legends  genre is called "Old-time music" not to be confused with Blue Grass which represents perhaps the oldest form of North American traditional music other than Native American music, and thus the term "old-time" is thus an appropriate one.  As a label, however, it dates back only to 1923.

Fiddlin' John Carson made some of the first commercial recordings of traditional American country music for the Okeh label. The recordings became hits. Okeh, which had previously coined the terms "hillbilly music" to describe Appalachian and Southern fiddle-based and religious music and "race recording" to describe the music of African American recording artists, began using "old-time music" as a term to describe the music made by artists of Carson's style. The term, thus, originated as a euphemism, but proved a suitable replacement for other terms that were considered disparaging by many inhabitants of these regions. It remains the term preferred by performers and listeners of the music. It is sometimes referred to as "old-timey" or "mountain music" by long-time practitioners. We also include other derivatives from our heritage including gospel, hymns, American and International Folk songs, and some contemporary tunes.

The Appalachian ( or Mountain) dulcimer is re-emerging as a core instrument for old-time music, thanks to the influence of musicians such as David Schnaufer and Stephen Seifert.

As such this instrument forms the primary sound of our group.  We however encourage the experimentation and variety by introduction of other acoustic instruments to our jams and performances.

Folk-Legends is dedicated to help preserve the unique simple melodies and tones of these times past and educate youth in this important part of their American heritage.



Mountain Dulcimer:

The plucked dulcimer ( shown above in our club logo) is the core instrument of our group. It has been known by many names: Appalachian dulcimer, lap dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, Kentucky dulcimer. Local variant names include "delcumer," "dulcymore," "harmonium," "hog fiddle," "music box," and "harmony box.". The instrument is essentially a fretted zither traditional to the southern Appalachian mountains of the eastern United States consisting of a narrow fingerboard attached to a larger soundbox underneath. Never widespread and found only in scattered pockets of tradition, the dulcimer since the 1950s has gained popularity outside the mountains and is today widely used by both amateur and professional musicians for primarily folk-based repertoires.

Since the turn of the twentieth century, popular images of the plucked dulcimer have tended towards the romantic, associating the instrument with romanticized notions of Appalachian residents as "our Elizabethan ancestors" and with simplistic conceptions of folk music as spontaneous, natural, naive musical outpourings of tradition. Repertoires were assumed to be limited to older pieces--balladry, play/party songs, and religious hymnody harking from the British Isles, and playing styles were reduced to drone accompaniments with simple melodic lines requiring little technical skill or musical talent. Partly because of this image, scholars of American music and folk culture tended to dismiss the dulcimer as either a useless novelty (fit only to hang on the wall as a decoration) or as an "invented" tradition, one introduced and encouraged solely by outsiders intent on maintaining a romanticized English identity of Appalachian Mountain culture.

Even though musicologist Charles Seeger (father of Pete) published an article in 1958 calling attention to the dulcimer as a legitimate subject for study, it is only since the early 1980s that scholars have been giving it serious consideration. Research by L. Allen Smith, Ralph Lee Smith challenges the accuracy of both the popular and the academic perceptions of the dulcimer. Dulcimer players and makers in northwest North Carolina and with field recordings housed in the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress has identified some of the early playing styles, repertoires, and traditions of the dulcimer. This data suggests that the dulcimer was used for a wider variety of repertoires and playing styles than was originally thought. It also suggests that the dulcimer represents innovation rather than conservation, both in its dissemination throughout the region and in its musical and physical development.

Because few historical records of the dulcimer exist, the origins of the instrument were open to speculation until recently when Ralph Lee Smith and L. Alan Smith reconstructed the instrument's history by analyzing older dulcimers. The organological development of the dulcimer divides into three periods: transitional (1700 to mid-1800's), pre-revival or traditional (mid-1800's to 1940), and revival or contemporary (after 1940).

During the transitional period, the dulcimer was developed in the Shenandoah River Valley region of southwestern Pennsylvania and western Virginia out of a blending of British (predominantly Ulster Scots and lowland Scots) musical traditions and a European folk instrument, the German scheitholt and possibly the Swedish hummel, Norwegian langeleik, and French epinettes des vosges.

The dulcimer's form solidified in the traditional period into a narrow fretboard attached to a larger soundbox underneath with many localized variants in design and construction. Easily constructed by hand, dulcimers appear to have been made by isolated individuals, although several pockets of family tradition arose, notably the Hicks of North Carolina, and the Meltons of Galax, Virginia. Two makers are known to have marketed their dulcimers and are probably largely responsible for the instrument's dissemination within Appalachia. J. Edward Thomas of Knott County, Kentucky, had connections to the Hindman Settlement School in eastern Kentucky and made dulcimers between 1871 and 1930, many of which he peddled from a mule cart. C. P. Pritchard of Huntington, West Virginia, manufactured what he termed an "American dulcimer" and offered strings through mail order. Both makers used an hourglass form and three strings and reflected national interests in novelty instruments and in constructing a unified American culture.

Towards the end of the 1800s, the settlement school and crafts movements brought the dulcimer to the attention of outsiders. These movements along with the interpretation of Appalachia as "our Elizabethan ancestors" encouraged a romanticized view of the instrument as emblematic of an imagined Appalachian culture. This view simultaneously encouraged mountain residents to preserve the dulcimer and discouraged them from developing it further. Popular literature in the early 1900's also adopted the dulcimer as a symbol of romanticized Appalachia, and scholars, notably I. G. Greer, and folk music enthusiasts, such as Andrew Rowan Summers, Mellinger Henry, Maurice Matteson, and John Jacob Niles, further introduced it to the American public.

After the 1940s, the dulcimer entered the urban northeast folk music revival scene largely due to Kentucky-born musician Jean Ritchie who performed and recorded extensively and also published the first major instruction and repertoire book (1963). Revivalist musicians such as Richard Farina, Paul Clayton, Howie Mitchell, Betty Smith, and Anne Grimes introduced the dulcimer to national and international audiences, as did recordings and public appearances by such traditional players as Frank Proffitt, Frank Proffitt, Jr., the Melton and Russell families of Galax, Virginia, the Presnell and Hicks families of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and the Ritchie family of eastern Kentucky.

Construction designs for the dulcimer are now easily available and dulcimer making has become a hobby and cottage industry throughout the U.S. Many makers have refined the instrument, expanding its musical capabilities. Variations of the instrument now include a cardboard dulcimer, a "backpacker's dulcimer" or dulcerine (fretboard without a soundbox), and an electric dulcimer. Numerous dulcimer clubs have also formed, and a quarterly magazine, "Dulcimer Players News," began publication in Winchester, Virginia, in 1975. Numerous recordings and instruction books are now available and although a variety of playing techniques and repertoires have developed, the dulcimer still carries the aura of romanticized, simplistic Appalachian folk culture.

The dulcimer is usually 75 to 90 cm long, its width varying according to the shape of the soundbox, commonly hourglass or teardrop, although oval, diamond, rectangular, and other shapes are also used. There are many variants in design and construction, including smaller child-sized and larger concert-sized instruments.

Traditional instruments had three strings, the melody, middle, and bass. Additional strings sometimes doubled the original three, most frequently the melody string in order to give a greater volume to the melody line. Contemporary dulcimers frequently include extra string notches so that a fourth string can either double the melody string or be equidistant between the melody and middle strings. Strings were generally metal and borrowed from other instruments, but strings specifically for dulcimer are now manufactured.

The fingerboard was divided by metal frets into two and a half to three octaves of a diatonic scale, rendering the dulcimer a modal instrument. The two most commonly used modes seem to have been the ionian (major scale) beginning on the third fret and the mixolydian, beginning on the open string. The dorian (4th fret) and aeolian (1st fret) were probably also used. Contemporary dulcimers frequently include a 6 1/2 fret, and some makers now offer a 1 1/2 fret or even a complete chromatically fretted instrument.

The frets on earlier dulcimers were placed under only the first two strings, but most dulcimers made after 1940 have frets extendng the full width of the fingerboard, an innovation that allows wider ranges for melody lines and chording on the other strings.

On traditional dulcimers the strings are tuned according to the mode being used. Two common ionian tunings had the melody and middle strings at the same pitch, a fifth or octave above the bass string. Other tunings included the melody and bass strings an octave apart with the middle string a fifth above the bass or the strings tuned to create either a major or minor chord. Contemporary players have devised even more tunings and have adopted the use of capos to change keys without retuning.

Traditional playing styles on the dulcimer were probably varied, consisting of adaptations of other instrumental techniques, notably the bowing of the scheitholt and fiddle and the strumming by hand or plectrum of the banjo and guitar. The instrument was usually placed horizontally across a table or the player's lap with the right hand sounding the strings with fingers or a plectrum made from wood or a feather quill while the left hand played a melody line by pressing down on the fretboard with a noter (usually a rounded stick or twig) or fingers. Generally melodies were played on the first string only (the other strings functioned as drones) resulting in a musical effect similar to that of bagpipes. Sophisticated techniques for utilizing all the strings for melody, for playing chords, and for finger-picking have been developed by both traditional and contemporary dulcimer players, notably Frank Proffitt, Jr., Clifford Glenn, Howie Mitchell, Lois Hornbostel, David Schnaufer, Neal Hellman, Robert Force, Albert d'Ossche, and Madeline MacNeil. Noters and picks specifically for dulcimer are now manufactured.

The traditional repertoire of the dulcimer included the full range of repertoires found in the mountains, including traditional British balladry and hymnody, dance tunes, and play/party songs (an Anglo-American tradition of songs instead of musical instruments accompanying social dances and children's games) along with minstrel show tunes and popular sentimental songs, gospel, blues, and commercial hillbilly music of the twentieth century. The older British-derived repertoire was emphasized by the romanticists of the instrument, and the dulcimer is still associated today with those styles of music, although contemporary players have expanded the repertoire enormously. Because of its soft volume, the dulcimer is thought to have been used either as accompaniment to singing or for instrumental solos, but it was also used in string bands and instrumental duets where it functioned as a melody instrument and also provided harmony and a rhythmic background through the slapping of the pick against the strings.

Folk Legends usually tunes their dulcimers to key of D using the DAD tuning method.

Source:  Hstory of the Mountain Dulcimer by Lucy M. Long.


Hammered Dulcimer:      The hammered dulcimer ( or hammer as we call it) is the instrument with roots in the Bible book of Daniel III:10.  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 described above) 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. Source: Wikipedia.



The Autoharp is a musical string instrument having a series of chord bars attached to dampers which, when depressed, mute all the strings other than those that form the desired chord. Despite its name, the autoharp is not a harp at all, but a zither. The generic term for the instrument is chorded zither.


There is debate over the origin of the autoharp. A German immigrant in Philadelphia by the name of Charles F. Zimmermann was awarded US patent 257808 in 1882 for a design for a musical instrument that included mechanisms for muting certain strings during play. He named his invention the "autoharp". Unlike later autoharps, the shape of the instrument was symmetrical, and the felt-bearing bars moved horizontally against the strings instead of vertically. It is not known if Zimmermann ever commercially produced any instruments of this early design. Karl August Gütter of Markneukirchen, Germany, had built a model that he called a "Volkszither" which most resembles the Autoharp played today. Gütter obtained a British patent for his instrument circa 1883-1884. Zimmermann, after returning from a visit to Germany, began production of the Gütter design in 1885 but with his own design patent number and catchy name. Gütter's instrument became very popular and Zimmermann has often been mistaken as the inventor.

Trademark litigation

The term "Autoharp" was registered as a registered trademark in 1926, and is currently claimed by U.S. Music Corporation, whose Oscar Schmidt division manufactures autoharps. The USPTO registration, however, covers only "Mark Drawing Code (5) WORDS, LETTERS, AND/OR NUMBERS IN STYLIZED FORM". In litigation with George Orthey, it was held that Oscar Schmidt could only claim ownership of the stylized lettering of the word Autoharp, the term itself having moved into general usage. As a consequence, for instance, Autoharp Quarterly is able to register its own mark using the word autoharp in its generic sense, and Orthey instruments (and other luthier built instruments) can be marketed as "autoharps" rather than the pre-litigation "Dulciharp".


Modern Autoharps have 36 or 37 strings, although some examples with as many as 48 strings exist. They are strung in either diatonic (1, 2 or 3 key models) or chromatic scales. Although the Autoharp is often thought of as a rhythm instrument for playing chordal accompaniment, modern players can play melodies on the instrument. Diatonic players are able to play fiddle tunes by using open-chording techniques, "pumping" the damper buttons while picking individual strings. Skilled chromatic players can perform a range of melodies.

Diatonically strung single key instruments from modern day luthiers such as Orthey, Fladmark, Hollandsworth, D'Aigle, Baker, Daniels and Goose Acres are known for their lush sound. This is accomplished by doubling the strings for individual notes. Since the strings for notes not in the diatonic scale need not appear in the string bed, the resulting extra space is used for the doubled strings, resulting in fewer damped strings. Two- and three-key diatonics compromise the number of doubled strings to gain the ability to play in two or three keys, and to permit tunes containing accidentals which could not otherwise be rendered on a single key harp. A three-key harp in the circle of fifths, such as a GDA, is often called a festival or campfire harp, as the instrument can easily accompany fiddles around a campfire at a festival in their favored keys.  Source  Wikipedia





A mandolin's typically hollow wooden body has a neck with a flat (or slight radius) fretted fingerboard, a nut and floating bridge, a tailpiece or pinblock at the edge of the face to which the strings are attached, and mechanical tuning machines, rather than friction pegs, to accommodate metal strings. Like the guitar, the mandolin has relatively poor sustain; that is, the sound from a plucked string decays quickly. A note cannot be maintained for an arbitrary length of time as with a bowed note on a violin. Its small size and higher pitch makes this problem more severe than with the guitar, and the use of tremolo (rapid picking of one or more pairs of strings) is often used to create a sustained note or chords. This technique works particularly well with a mandolin's paired strings, where one of the pair is sounding while the other is being struck by the pick, giving a more rounded and continuous sound than is possible with a single coursed instrument.

The small body also contributes to a relatively low sound volume relative to other instruments. Various amplification techniques have been used to overcome this. Hybridization with the louder banjo creates the banjo mandolin, and resonators have been used, most notably by Dobro and the National String Instrument Corporation.

Single mandolins were first used in southern string band music in the 1930s, most notably by brother duets such as the sedate Blue Sky Boys (Bill Bolick and Earl Bolick) and the more hard-driving Monroe Brothers (Bill Monroe and Charlie Monroe). However, the mandolin's modern popularity in country music can be directly traced to one man: Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.



Claw Hammer Banjo

Clawhammer is a highly rhythmic and common component of American old-time music that Folk Legends loves. The principal difference between clawhammer style and other finger picking styles is the picking direction. Traditional picking styles, including those for folk, bluegrass, and classical guitar, consist of an up-picking motion by the fingers and a down-picking motion by the thumb; this is also the technique used in the Scruggs style for the banjo.

Clawhammer picking, by contrast, is primarily a down-picking style. The hand assumes a claw-like shape and the strumming finger is kept fairly stiff, striking the strings by the motion of the hand at the wrist and/or elbow, rather than a flicking motion by the finger. In its most common form on the banjo, only the thumb and middle or index finger are used and the finger always downpicks, hitting the string with the back of the fingernail or a pick.ces in media. Early practitioners include Clarence Ashley, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, and Wade Ward. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.


The Cloud Nine Marimbula

The marimbula, sometimes called the bass kalimba, is a folk instrument of the Caribbean, the creation of African slaves and their descendants. It comes originally from rural Oriente province, at the eastern end of the island of Cuba, and was first observed being played there in the mid-nineteenth century. By the 1930s it had made its way to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands, to Mexico and as far away as New York City. The Cubans call it mar’mbula (pronounced mah-REAM-boo-lah), and most of the other Caribbean countries have adopted this name or some variant of it: marimba, malimba, manimba, marimbol. In English-speaking Jamaica, however, it's called a "rumba-box." Musicologists refer to the instrument as a "large-box lamellaphone." The word lamellaphone comes from the Latin root lamella, or lamina, meaning "a thin plate or layer" (as in the English word "laminate"), and the Greek phone, meaning "sound." The lamellaphones are a family of musical instruments that produce sound when the player presses and releases the free ends of its lamellae, its "tongues" or keys. The classic lamellaphones are indigenous to Africa, where they take a variety of forms, known by such names as sanza, kisanji, likembe, mbira, mbila, marimba, malimba, and kalimba. In general these instruments are small enough to be held in the hands and played with the thumbs, hence their colloquial name, "thumb-piano." �

The true African kalimba and other members of the lamellaphone family have been around for centuries. The earliest written record of their existence is from 1586, but they are certainly much older than that. It is thought that they may have originated as portable versions of marimbas or xylophones. The latter were probably brought to Africa in ancient times from south-east Asia, where similar instruments are found today in the gamelan orchestras of Java and Bali. So although the marimbula of the West Indies is of relatively recent vintage (only 150 years or so old), its origins extend into the distant past, and quite possibly half-way around the world to the East Indies.

While the marimbula is clearly descended from the African lamellaphones, it is set apart from its progenitors by both its size and the way in which it is played. A few large-box types may be found in Africa (the Smithsonian in Washington has one from Nigeria that measures 13 x 7 x 8 inches), but even these are not as large as the typical Caribbean model. And because of its larger size, the marimbula is not played with the thumbs, in the African manner, but with the index and middle fingers together.

More significant than the matter of thumbs vs. fingers is the fact that the original African lamellaphones are melodic and contrapuntal instruments, used singly or in ensembles with other lamellaphones to play a complex, polyphonic music, while the Caribbean marimbula plays only the relatively simple bass lines that provide a rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to the diverse instruments of a folk or commercial dance band. In this way its function corresponds to that of the bass in European music. So although its ancestry is unquestionably African, the marimbula is a product of mestizaje, the mixing of African and Western elements that characterizes much of Caribbean culture.

Early Marimbulas

When the people who first created the marimbula were uprooted from their homelands in Africa and transported across the ocean, they could not carry their musical instruments with them. Unlike European immigrants with their fiddles and their guitars, the Africans brought only their traditions, only what they could carry in their heads. Once they arrived, they began to recreate their musical traditions, using instruments made from whatever local materials were available to them in their new environment. An example is the caj—n, literally "large box," an improvised Afro-Cuban drum made from a discarded wooden packing case. The caj—n is a kind of cousin to the marimbula, which in its earliest days was also made from nothing more elaborate than an old wooden box. The most common form of the marimbula consists of a rectangular box the size and shape of a small suitcase (some even have a luggage-type handle on top), with a sound hole and a row of keys on one of its sides. The player (called the marimbulero) places the instrument on the ground with the keys pointing upward, and sits on its top edge, reaching down to press the keys. The latter can be of metal, wood or bamboo; for many years the preferred material was discarded springs from old wind-up Victrola phonographs, but old clock springs and knife or saw blades have been used, as well as steel strapping from lumber shipments and, in Jamaica, hoops from rum casks. In New York's Spanish Harlem in the 1930s, marimbulas are said to have been made from orange crates and bed springs. There have been many variations on this basic design. On some instruments, hearkening back to their African ancestors, the wooden box is replaced by a large calabash gourd, with a circular slab of wood for a sound board. Other models are designed to rest on the lap, or to hang by straps from the neck, so that the player can stand or walk around while playing (these are used in Carnaval and other types of parades). In Puerto Rico, the box is sometimes made in the shape of a truncated string bass body. �

The number of keys also varies from place to place: ten or more in Cuba and Puerto Rico, but only three or four in Haiti and Dominican Republic. Experimental models have been built with over sixty. Where the number of keys is small, the player typically plays them all with one hand, using the other hand to beat out a rhythm on the side of the box, and this percussive rhythm can be as important as the notes produced by the keys. Even when the fingers of both hands are occupied with the keys, the thumbs are sometime used to drum on the top of the instrument. �

The Marimbula in Afro-Cuban Music

In its native Cuba, the marimbula is associated with a type of music called son (rhymes with "tone"). Son was originally a country dance-song from rural eastern Cuba, performed by singers with an ensemble of string and percussion instruments that normally included the marimbula. The son came to the capital city of Havana in the early 1900s, and by the early 1920s it had become a major dance craze. Son is what you hear on the CD Buena Vista Social Club (and in the documentary film of the same name). It is to Latin music what the blues is to North American music: just as the blues became the basis for the later development of jazz and rock and roll, so the son was the precursor to the salsa style of the late 1960s and beyond. �

The earliest and most basic son ensemble was the terceto, consisting of: marimbula, bong— drums, and tres (a Cuban guitar with three sets of double strings). When the country son moved to the city, maracas, guitar, and claves (hardwood rhythm sticks) were added, creating the sexteto, the classic son group of the early to mid 1920s. (In some of these groups, instead of a marimbula, there was a botija or botijuela, a wind instrument made from an empty earthenware olive oil jar that was played much like the "jug" in American jug bands.) With commercial success, however, came changes in this line-up. Beginning around 1925, the marimbula was replaced by the string bass, and a cornet or trumpet was added to the group, transforming the sexteto into the septeto. It is the septeto sound, with string bass and trumpet, that you hear on Buena Vista Social Club. �

The string bass came to be preferred over the marimbula because of its greater volume, range and versatility, its superior ability to provide a harmonic accompaniment to the increasingly complex music that was beginning to be played at that time. Along with these advantages, however, came considerable disadvantages, including the much greater expense required to purchase and maintain a string bass, and its much larger size, which makes it so difficult to transport and vulnerable to accidents. And so the easily portable, inexpensive, and hardy marimbula continued to be played in rural communities and the less prosperous sections of the cities. Sturdy and manageable, it was still the most practical choice for street music and parades (comparsas). For these reasons it has been called the "poor man's string bass." �

Beyond the Son

The marimbula spread out from Cuba along with the son. In part this came about thanks to migrant workers from other parts of the Caribbean, who were exposed to the instrument while working on the Cuban sugar plantations, and then created their own versions of it on returning to their home islands. More significant were the professional touring ensembles from Havana, who introduced the son to other Caribbean countries and Mexico, Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 30s. The music that became so popular in the U.S. during that time under the name of "rumba" was in fact not rumba at all, but son. �

Outside of Cuba, the marimbula has been used to play both Cuban-style dance music and the local dance musics of the countries in which it has made its home. In the Dominican Republic it plays merengue in a type of ensemble called the conjunto t’pico, which also includes accordion, drum and gŸira (scraper). In Haiti it is used to accompany the dance called mŽringue, and in Puerto Rico it often appears among the musicians who join in Christmastime parrandas or asaltos, roving neighborhood parties that go from house to house playing and singing, eating and drinking. In Jamaica it is sometimes used in Rastafarian ceremonies. �

The marimbula experienced a revival In the 1970s, when the folk music movement known as Nueva Canci—n or Nueva Trova ("new song") was sweeping through Latin America. Renewed interest led some Instrument makers to experiment with techniques used in constructing other instruments, such as the internal bracing found in guitars, in an effort to build a better mar’mbula. In recent decades the marimbula has appeared on recordings by musicians ranging from the Cuban roots music group Sierra Maestra to jazz great Herbie Hancock (on his Head Hunters album), from Martin Denny's Exotica to the Seattle Latin jazz combo Sonando.   History Source:  Michael Sisson, Ph.D., © 2000 Michael D. Sisson as abridged

 Inspired by the African Marimbula, a large resonating chamber with tuned metal keys described above by Michael Sisson, the Cloud Nine Marimbula uses a different shape and tuned wooden keys to produce a sound similar to the plucked upright bass. More info on the cloud nine marimbula that we use is built and distributed exclusively by Michael C. Allen and can be found on

Members of Folk_legends affectionaltely call our Cloud Nine Marimbula "Thumper" after the deep thumps it produces.



Upright Bass Fiddle or String Bass

The string bass is another instrument in old  time music and is almost always plucked. It is responsible for keeping a steady beat, whether fast, slow, in 4/4 time, 2/4 or 3/4 time.  Most bluegrass bassists use the 3/4 size bass, but the full-size and 5/8 size basses are also used.

Early old time traditional music was often accompanied by the cello. The cellist Natalie Haas points out that in the US, you can find "... old photographs, and even old recordings, of American string bands with cello." However, "the cello dropped out of sight in folk music and became associated with the orchestra". The cello did not reappear in bluegrass until the 1990s and 2000s. However, the bass guitar has a different musical sound. Many musicians feel the slower attack and percussive, woody tone of the upright bass gives it a more "earthy" or "natural" sound than an electric bass, particularly when gut strings are used.

Common rhythms in old time  bass playing involve (with some exceptions) plucking on beats 1 and 3 in 4/4 time; beats 1 and 2 in 2/4 time, and on only on the downbeat in 3/4 time (waltz time). Bluegrass bass lines are usually simple, typically staying on the root and fifth of each chord throughout most of a song. There are two main exceptions to this "rule". Some bassists often do a diatonic "walkup" or "walkdown" in which they play every beat of a bar for one or two bars, typically when there is a chord change. In addition, if a bass player is given a solo, they may play a walking bass line with a note on every beat or play a pentatonic scale-influenced bassline.

The cost, large size, and transport problems thereof are the biggest negative factors for the upright bass in this informal genre.  However, when played right, it does a wonderful job of rounding out the higher pitched tones of the other acoustic instruments. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.


A steel-string acoustic guitar, is a modern form of guitar descended from the classical guitar, but strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound. Strictly speaking, the terms steel-stringed guitar, classical guitar, and folk guitar all refer to acoustic (that is, non-electric) guitars, though some of these terms refer to different types of instruments (nylon-strung vs. steel-strung). The term "acoustic guitar" is a retronym, since before the invention of the electric instrument, all guitars were "acoustic."

The standard tuning for an acoustic guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E (low to high), although many players, particularly fingerpickers, use alternate tunings (scordatura), such as "open G" (D-G-D-G-B-D), "open D tuning" (D-A-D-F-A-D), or "drop D" (D-A-D-G-B-E). A common mnemonic for standard tuning is "Eddie ate dynamite; good-bye Eddie",or "Every animal deserves good breakfast everyday", which aids beginners in remembering the string tuning sequence from low to high.


There are many different variations on the construction of, and materials used in, steel-string guitars. More expensive guitars feature solid tonewood tops (sometimes spruce), sides and backs (often rosewood, maple, or mahogany). Lower-priced guitars typically combine solid tops with laminated (layers of wood) backs and sides. Entry-level guitars are usually made entirely of laminated wood. Necks are generally made of mahogany (either Philippine or Honduran) and fretboards are usually made of dense, tropical hardwoods such as rosewood or ebony. The various combinations of the different woods and their quality, along with design and construction elements (for example, how the top is braced), are among the factors affecting the timbre or "tone" of the guitar. Many players and builders feel a well-made guitar's tone improves over time.

Different body shapes acoustic guitars are commonly constructed in include the Dreadnought body style, an example of which would be the Martin HD-28, this is one of the most common styles, The Jumbo body style, an example of which would be the Gibson J-200, and the Grand Auditorium style, an example of which would be the Taylor Guitars GA7.

Typically, a steel-string acoustic guitar is built with a larger soundbox than a standard classical guitar. Because such instruments must withstand higher string tension than nylon-strung guitars, heavier construction is required overall. Steel-string guitars use different bracing systems from classical guitars, typically using X-bracing instead of the fan bracing used on classical and flamenco guitars. (Another simpler system, called ladder bracing, where the braces are all placed across the width of the instrument, is used on all types of flat-top guitars on the back.) Innovations in bracing design have emerged, most notably the A-brace developed by British luthier Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars.

Due to decreasing availability and rising prices of the premium-quality tonewoods, many manufacturers have begun experimenting with alternate species of woods or more commonly available variations on the standard species. For example, some makers have begun producing models with redcedar or mahogany tops. Some have also begun using non-wood materials, such as plastic or graphite. Most luthiers and experienced players agree that a good solid (as opposed to laminated) top is the most important factor in the tone of the guitar and that solid backs and sides can also contribute to a pleasant sound, although laminated sides and backs are acceptable alternatives.

Due to the lower full bodied bass range of the guitar, it frequently is called upon to provide the rythmn beat to many of the Folk Legends dulcimer tunes. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.


The Ukulele, (pronounced /YOO-Koo-leh-lee, from Hawaiian: sometimes abbreviated to uke, is a chordophone classified as a plucked lute; it is a subset of the guitar family of instruments, generally with four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings.

The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of the cavaquinho, a small guitar-like instrument brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants.  It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally.

Tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. We use both tenor and baritone ukes in Folk-Legends.

Ukes are the hottest new instrument in the the old time scene today due mainly to their simplicity and low cost for introductory models.  They can be played in many styles mimicing sounds of other more complex instruments.

Info courtesy of Wikipedia.



Harmonica ( or mouth harp).  The harmonica has also found a home in the Old Time arsenal of instruments.  It's smooth melodic chords and solo notes blend nicely with the sound of the group.  The most common harp in this genre is a D Key Diatonic which is easy to play with the Dulcimer preferred key of D.Info courtesy of Wikipedia.



Penny Whistle

The modern penny whistle is indigenous to the British Isles particularly England when factory-made "tin whistles" were produced by Robert Clarke from (1840–1882) in Manchester and later New Moston, England. 

While whistles have most often been produced in higher pitches, the "low" whistle is not unknown historically. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has in its collection an example of a 19th-century low whistle from the famous Galpin collection. During the 1960s revival of traditional Irish music the low whistle was "recreated" by Bernard Overton at the request of Finbar Furey.

Gaining popularity as a folk instrument in the early 19th century in the Celtic music revivals, penny whistles now play an integral part of our  folk traditions. Whistles are a prevalent starting instrument in English traditional music, Scottish traditional music and Irish traditional music, since they are often cheap (under US$10), relatively easy to start with (no tricky embouchure such as found with the flute), and the fingerings are nearly identical to those on the traditional six holed flute (Irish flute, baroque flute). The tin whistle is the most popular instrument in Irish traditional music today. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.




Another instrument which finds a natural home in the Old Time Scene is the Fiddle or Violin.  Although technically, the term fiddle includes all stringed instruments played with a bow, in this genre, we associate the term fiddle to a classical (rounded) violin modified to have a flatter bridge that allows bowing  two or three notes at a time.  This allows bowing a unique tonal  characteristic specific to this genre as opposed to the purer sound produced by a classical founded bridge. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.