Pioneer Music

Pioneer life was full of hardship and hard work. Yet, the early settlers were not without their pleasurable diversions. Among these was the enjoyment of music. Although frowned upon by some, singing games and dances were popular, especially among the younger folks. Musical instruments, though, tended to be scarce and were, in some cases, viewed with moral suspicion. The fiddle, especially, was seen as an instrument of the devil. Only slightly more acceptable, at least initially, was the dulcimer. As a music box, it ". . . would make no man a good help-mate." Nevertheless, the tempting attraction of the music it produced overcame these reservations and the dulcimer became a generally accepted form of entertainment.

The history of the dulcimer is actually a long and rather distinguished one. Its antecedents could be found in North Africa, Central Asia, Korea and China as early as the 12th century. More commonly known as a zither at that time, it is believed that it was introduced into Europe in the 15th century, possibly from the Byzantine empire.

The instrument that evolved into the dulcimer of the American frontier was probably a version adapted and introduced by German settlers. It is known as a plucked dulcimer, which is different from the hammered dulcimer. It commonly has three to four strings and is played by "plucking" and "strumming" these strings. Part of the popularity of the dulcimer is the ease with which it can be played. Virtually any pioneer, regardless of musical training or knowledge could quickly master it and thus provide many hours of entertainment that helped to ease the harshness of frontier life.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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