Four Great Instruments for the Musical Beginner (Part 2)

(Now I’ll continue where my last post left off  by providing some brief information about the mountain dulcimer and the ocarina, the last of four instruments recommended for musical beginners.  Part one of this post can be found here.)

The next instrument up for discussion is the mountain dulcimer, also known as the Appalachian dulcimer. It is an American instrument with Germanic roots. It has three to four strings and has frets like a guitar, except that the frets are diatonic rather than chromatic. If you run down a string playing the notes, you will be playing a scale. Once again, it is easy to learn how to play simple melodies. The lack of chromatic notes means that notes are more likely to harmonize with notes on other strings; in other words, it makes for pleasant noodling. Try fretting a note while strumming across the strings. Chances are it will sound nice. Then switch to another note. And so on. There are variations on the dulcimer called “walking dulcimers.” These have a long thin neck and with the aid of a guitar strap or the like can be played while standing upright. One well known brand is called a Strumstick.

Finally, we have the ocarina. The ocarina is a South American vessel flute which traveled to Europe hundreds of years ago and is now known worldwide, partly in thanks to the video game “Zelda, Ocarina of Time.” The ocarina has a beautiful pure sound due to the relative lack of overtones and normally does not overblow, so it won’t shriek as much as a recorder. There are two basic styles, the round or “pendant” style with six or so holes and the linear style (either inline or transverse) with nine to twelve holes. I could go really in depth here, but I’ll spare you for now. What’s really neat about the round style is that tablature music books exist which show how to play songs through pictures alone. With so few holes, it is very easy to follow the changes in the fingering diagrams, and once again, even an eight year old can do it. Once a person is ready to tackle written music, it is time to switch to the linear style of ocarina. The fingering is very similar to that of the flute or recorder, so what is learned is transferable. Be very careful when purchasing an ocarina. There are many decorative ocarinas for sale which are not capable of playing music. If all the holes are the same size, you know you have a decorative ocarina. Online you can find plenty of advice on purchasing an ocarina from TON, The Ocarina Network. Two good brands include Focalink and TNG. I buy most of my ocarinas from the May Tune store on Ebay. In the US you can also buy ocarinas from STL Ocarinas. If you are buying an ocarina for a child with small hands, order a soprano C or soprano G model.

This has been a brief introduction to the charms of some of my favorite folk instruments. If you have never learned to play an instrument, I hope you will be encouraged to try one of these!

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