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Acoustic Music in the Tri-Cities, WA

Three Rivers Dulcimer Society

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Welcome Beginners.
  This section of our site is just for you...

Getting an Instrument - We try to bring a few spares to our jams, but at some point you'll be wanting to get your own. Our links page lists a number of shops in the Pacific Northwest and online stores that sell dulcimers. Although it is possible to get a good instrument sight-unseen, there is no substitute for laying hands on an instrument before you purchase it. Beware of "Dulcimer-Shaped Objects" on ebay. Dulcimers are simple instruments and can be built by persons with minimal woodworking skills. Some of these one-off instruments are amazing; some should be left alone. Factors to think about in buying your instrument

  • Folkcraft/Folk Roots, McSpadden, and Blue Lion build wonderful instruments that are great for players of all levels.
  • Geared tuners are easier to work with than wooden peg tuners.
  • Tune the instrument. The notes should stay true all the way up the fret board. If the open string is in tune but the octave note (7th fret) is sharp or flat, gently set the instrument down and walk away. The instrument maker was not precise in measuring the fret spacings and this cannot be fixed.
  • There should be no buzzing sounds (caused by an individual fret being too high or crooked). A luthier can fix this if it's the only problem.
  • A 6 1/2 fret is nice and you'll likely want one so you can play in an additional key. You can get one added later by a luthier if needed.
  • The strings should not be uncomfortably high (easy enough to press down to get a clear note.)
  • Sound hole shape is not important - hearts, circles, etc. Instrument shape is not important - the two main shapes are teardrop and hourglass.
  • A nice clear sound. Some instruments sound dull; some bright; some loud; some sound plasticy. Pick a sound that you like. Brand new instruments made of solid wood (not plywood) will open up after time spent playing them (months to years) and will sound EVEN better.
  • For those on a super low budget, there ARE some decent cardboard soundbox instruments. Use the same criteria.

Reading Tab - You don't need to know how to read music to play dulcimer, but unless you have someone sitting with you and are playing by ear you'll need to look at something to learn new tunes. Tablature is the shorthand method of capturing a tune on paper.


Here are some of the tunes on our "Music" page that we recommend for beginners and newer players.  They're the easiest tunes to work on at home so you can come and jump right in to play in a jam.

  • Acres of Clams
  • Amazing Grace
  • Bile the Black Mountain Squirrels
  • Britches Full of Stitches
  • Clinch Mountain/Sweet Pepper
  • Fiddlin' Around
  • Harrison Town
  • Keel Row
  • Lady Mary
  • Leaving Lismore
  • Loch Lomond
  • Mairi's Wedding
  • Mississippi Sawyer
  • Old Gray Liza
  • Peace Like a River
  • Red River Valley
  • Road to Boston
  • Simple Gifts
  • Southwind
  • This Land is Your Land
  • The Water is Wide

Chords - Sometimes when we are beginning it is difficult to play along with the group when the song is a little challenging. Here is a link to a “chord finder” that will give you fingerings for chords you can just strum.  The most common chords are “D”, “G”, “A” and "Em”. There are several different ways to make each of these chords and you don’t need to learn them all. Choose a fingering that is easy for you to get your fingers around. This is a tool to learn basic chords:

How to Play Chords

There are several  different tunings that we can use on our mountain dulcimers. Our group mostly uses DAD or mixolydian, but this chord finder will work for other tunings. With just these four chords here are some songs you can play!

  • John Ryan's Polka
  • Peace Like a River
  • Road to Lisdoonvarna

You Tube is another source of good info. Here is a mini lesson on video.

Check back for new things. We welcome suggestions & ideas for new links and info that would be helpful for beginners.