love and play:
| Hammered Dulcimer |
Autoharp | Mandolin |
Claw Hammer Banjo | Guitar |
Cloud Nine Marimbula | Bull Fiddle |Ukulele
Bodhran and other Percussion|
Harmonica | Penny Whistle | Fiddle
| BASS DULCIMER |
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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
affectionately call our Cloud Nine Marimbula "Thumper" after the deep thumps
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. Folk Legends currently uses either a Marimbula
or a Bass Dulcimer ( see other instruments)
Info courtesy of Wikipedia.
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
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.
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.
( 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.
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
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.