dulcimer (dŭlˈsĭmər) [key], stringed musical instrument. It is a wooden box with strings stretched over it that are struck with small mallets. The number of strings may vary. The dulcimer is related to the psaltery and modern zither. It originated in the Middle East and was adopted in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is known, in varying forms, in Turkey, Iran, China (including Tibet), and other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and N Africa. The popularity of the dulcimer continued in Western Europe until the 17th cent., when it sharply declined, though a German, Pantaleon Hebenstreit, enlarged it to make an instrument called the pantaleon in the early 18th cent. It is still much used in Eastern Europe in Romani (Gypsy) bands. In Appalachia a plucked dulcimer very similar to the zither is popular. It has an elongated hourglass shape and is held on the player's lap.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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