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PD40 age and educational materials


Hello everyone! Newbie to the forum here!

I am the owner of a PD40 piano dulcimer that I acquired used. Its serial number is 181xx (hopefully that’s enough). I would like to know what year it was made. I would also like to know what year piano dulcimers were introduced. Finally, I would like to know why there is so little instructional material available. I know of only one book. I own it, it’s not much help, and it’s out of print. Has Dusty Strings ever considered getting someone to write a piano dulcimer instructional method? If there was more available, the instrument might become more popular. As it is right now, buyers of the PD instruments are pretty much on their own


Hello, and welcome!

It looks like your dulcimer was made in 2012. We’ve been building piano dulcimers since around 2000, and I think Sam Rizzetta (whose brainchild this particular tuning scheme is) was likely building his own a little before that. In comparison to the centuries-long history of the traditional American hammered dulcimer, the piano dulcimer is a very recent invention. This is one reason why there’s very little in the way of instructional materials.

Another reason is that piano dulcimer is very much a niche instrument. It’s most often chosen by people who are musicians already and think in terms of linear keyboards and black and white keys. For these people, it can be easier to adapt to the PD layout than to the traditional fifth-interval tuning, and they are often able to transfer their keyboard music to the piano dulcimer on their own. In our experience, most beginning musicians who are choosing dulcimer as their first instrument have an easier time learning on the traditional dulcimer, and this is part of why most learning materials are written for the traditional tuning. There’s just not enough of a market for piano dulcimer books to make it worth someone’s time to develop and publish a learning method, as evidenced by the one that was written and is now out of print.

You do have a valid point that if there were more instructional materials available, piano dulcimer might become more popular. This is definitely a possibility that shouldn’t be discounted. However, in my opinion, the traditional tuning is easier for first-time musicians to pick up, and lends itself more to the traditional folk tunes that are often played on hammered dulcimer, and for these reasons I don’t think piano dulcimer is likely to break very far out of its niche. But we learn new things all the time about how our instruments are being used!

What do you think? Why did you choose this particular instrument?


Thank you so much for the information Christy! The dulcimer is a little bit newer than I thought it was. I am an experienced musician, a retired music teacher actually. When I acquired the PD40 I was already playing a traditional hammered dulcimer. As for the reason I chose it, to be honest, I got a real bargain price that I could not resist! The previous owner was also an experienced musician, on keyboards, but she did not take to it like she thought she would. I have noted that used PDs do not come up for sale often, but when they do they are often discounted more than traditional dulcimers. I suppose they are viewed as a tougher sell. So, first there was the bargain aspect. Secondly, it was a quantum leap up in sound and build quality from what I was playing. I figured that I could get used to the different layout. I can get around on it alright, and pick out tunes, but I still wish I could get some guidance about hammering patterns, when to double strike, which hand to lead with in different circumstances, when crossing hands is ok and when it’s not, etc. There is plenty of information like that on traditional layout. With PD, you’re on your own.

I use it when playing music I know has a lot of accidentals. I like not having to worry about whether the notes I need are there or not. Also, when I have pieces with a wide range. I like to record with it. The tone records very nicely! I don’t like it when I make a mistake though. A mistake is usually only a half step off and it sticks out like a sore thumb!

Maybe other PD owners will read this discussion and offer some suggestions on technique. One can always hope!


The PD40 is a great way to get a large chromatic range on a smaller and less expensive instrument, but I see what you mean about those pesky half-step mistakes! I imagine it would be nice to get some tips and pointers about hammering patterns from someone who is used to playing in that tuning. I’m afraid I’m useless on that front, but maybe someone else will chime in!


Hi there, I’m a PD40 user as well, I’m glad to read you DonO :slight_smile:

I’m not a very experienced musician though, I played brass for about 6 years before getting to the HD since 2 years now.

I really like this instrument and I practice a lot on the PD40, something like 2 hours every day minimum. I’ve a very spontaneous approach to music and my first objective with the PD40 has been to “make it sound well enough” to be able to go out and busk with it.

This is quite achieved and these recent month I’ve spent some time to create some exercises to improve my technique with the instrument. I’m caring a lot more about my posture also but I guess I won’t have to mention that to a retired music teacher.
Theses exercises have different objectives; left / right switching, maintaining bass with right hand and soloing with the left (as a right handed person I’m able to do it the other way), double strike with left hand, triple strike with both, velocity and speed exercises, precision exercises, harmonizing exercises, rhythmic exercises, as well as pattern switching exercises.

I’d like to help you and share with you what I know if you’re interested but I don’t really know how to do it (quickly at least). I guess shooting little videos would be the most effective way to show what I came up with but I lent my camera to a friend at the moment and I’m also very busy these weeks. I guess if you’re a bit patient I could shoot these videos during the next weeks / months…

Until then I can share with you some educational materials from other instruments I found useful and inspiring recently.
Snare drum:

Mimicking the paradiddles, flams and so on, from the snare can be interesting rhythmically speaking


Although the PD40 got a big difference with the cimbalom (bass bridges are on the sides and thus unplayable with one hand only), the exercises presented here by Kalman Balogh (great musician btw) are quite reproducible with the PD40. There are a few other videos that can be interesting on this channel (Videos named “cimbalom polka”, “ejercicio para trasponer a todos los tonos” and “Improvisación-creación sobre ejercicios en La Menor” are the other 3 most interesting as far as I’ve seen).
Of course everything that is showed in those videos has to be adapted to the specificity of the PD40 but since the cimbalom is also a chromatic instrument I’ve found some inspiration in those videos. I hope it will inspire you as well.

Btw I’m from Belgium, Europe. If by any chance you are around in the coming times, do not hesitate to contact me.



Thank you Robz for your post, suggestions, and video! I have heard cimbalom players but never got a chance to watch one from behind to see what they were doing. It seems like he is mostly playing melody with the left hand, and bass notes/ argeggios with the right. He seems to only alternate when there is a fast run. Does it sound like I have that correct? This is totally different from what I was taught on hammered dulcimer. I was taught to alternate whenever possible. I try to avoid double striking, let alone what this cimbalom player was doing with multiple strokes in both hands, independently and simultaneously. Do any American dulcimer players play with this cimbalom technique? It is a way of playing that I am completely unfamiliar with. Is this the way you approach playing the piano dulcimer? I realize they are similar in that they are both chromatic, but they are quite different in layout too. The cimbalom layout seems to have more in common with James Jone’s Linear Chromatic design than it does it’s the PD.


Hey DonO,

It’s certain that the style of music and technique are quite different from traditional hammered dulcimer music and technique. As I told you, I found the techniques above interesting to be able to play and master the PD40 in different ways, to be able to make the PD40 sound different from a song to another… Also it’s my approach to music, I’m not playing songs from a specific repertoire, I’m playing compositions and sometime mimicking some songs but never tried to precisely copy anything for the moment. I’m exploring what the PD40 offers within its particularities as a unique instrument.

In a general way, I would say that you have to alternate hands a lot more with the PD40 than with any other type of hammered dulcimer, cimbalom, santur etc…
The placement of the bass bridges on the precisely symmetric layout of the PD40 makes it so.
To mimic the exercise above, you’ll have to alternate right/left hand for melody and bass. Sometimes the right hand is playing melodies, sometimes the left, depending on the bass progression. It’s the bass note you have to play that determines which hand plays the melody.
Also the range of the PD40 is smaller than this concert cimbalom that is probably 1 octave larger.

Personally I found that double and multiple strikings can be quite interesting if you develop a correct damper technique. It’s only an personal opinion but I think that multiple strikings have to be damped at some point to remain musically interesting :thinking:
But I use this technique yes.

I guess I’m probably not the best helper if you’re looking to play folk songs as traditional HD players are doing… Still, I hope it will help in some ways :nerd_face: