Playing Hammered Dulcimer Seated Or Standing

I was busking in New York City at the tender age of 17. I played Appalachian dulcimer by myself or as part of several string bands.

While out busking one day I heard a hammered dulcimer for the first time. It was played by another busker who was passing through the city.

A few months later I acquired my first hammered dulcimer. Since the only hammered dulcimer player I had seen played standing up I figured that was how it was done.

Doug Berch in his mid twenties

Over time I met other hammered dulcimer players and saw that some played standing and some played sitting.

I preferred to play standing for the following reasons:

  • Chairs come in a variety of heights but the ground is always in the same place
  • I liked being able to move around while playing
  • Most musicians I worked with played standing up and everyone could hear each other more easily
  • I thought it looked better when performing

 

After playing hammered dulcimer for 12 years I developed some musculoskeletal difficulties. Playing hammered dulcimer did not cause this problem but it did aggravate the condition. It was difficult for me to play hammered dulcimer for extended periods of time.

After a few more years the situation worsened and if I was going to continue playing hammered dulcimer some changes would have to be made. This was some time in the early 1990’s

Getting a new body was too expensive so I tried playing hammered dulcimer sitting down.

Doug Berch playing hammered dulcimer seated and looking good

The advantages of playing sitting down:

  • Sitting took a lot of pressure off my hips and lower back
  • Tilting the hammered dulcimer at a very steep angle helped my upper back  relax since the high strings were within closer reach

 

I was very used to playing standing up and it took about 2 years before playing seated felt natural to me.

A few days ago I was practicing before a concert and I simply could not play well. I kept missing notes and something just didn’t seem right.

Something told me to try playing standing up.

I felt a sense of ease playing hammered dulcimer that I had not felt in many years. Freedom of movement made playing seem much easier and my accuracy immediately improved.

I still have musculoskeletal problems but during the last few years I received a different diagnosis and have pursued some treatments that are more helpful.

It seems my body is once again showing a preference for playing standing up.

I wonder what’s next.

 

 

 

 

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