Bill Flanagan – Hammered Dulcimer



Playing the hammered dulcimer involves patterns. Chords and arpeggios can be visualized as patterns that can be moved around and connected in various ways across the instrument. Although I’ve been playing hammered dulcimer for a long time, I’ve only recently begun exploring these patterns in a ‘proper’ way. Ken Kolodner has an excellent 12-page handout called “Mapping the Hammered Dulcimer” where he explains the fundamental patterns used to play a variety of chords and arpeggios, and how all these patterns are connected. As I work my way through these exercises I’m experiencing many epiphanic moments as I recognize pattern fragments that I’ve self-learned over the years, now seeing how (and why) they fit within the larger pattern constructs and how they are all connected to one another. It’s just one epiphany after another!

As I was conveying my excitement about this to a friend, it occurred to me that this is all somewhat analogous to the night sky. All of the note possibilities on the hammered dulcimer represent stars in the sky, waiting to be explored. I gaze in wonder at the endless possibilities. As I learn and play more, I begin to recognize that some of these stars are connected to one another in patterns, and eventually the sky becomes full of such patterns… constellations! The chord and arpeggio patterns on the hammered dulcimer are like constellations! And the analogy continues. The constellations have names, and you can further explore and understand the various mythologies behind the constellations, and how the constellations can be used for navigation.

As I begin to learn and internalize these constellations, I want to make sure I don’t lose the ‘big picture’ sense of wonder about the endless possibilities in the vast universe that the hammered dulcimer connects me to. I want to be able to seamlessly shift my perspective between seeing the sky full of mysterious wonder vs. seeing the patterns and the understanding behind them. Ideally these will be different layers of perception connected as a spectrum, such that I can drift amongst the endless possibilities yet reach out for meaning as needed to help guide the journey.

And thus the journey continues…