Hands-on leads to music

Published 11:57 pm Monday, April 26, 2010

Lined in four rows on the floor, they strummed in unison. Well, roughly in union.

Since February, the third-grade students at Meadowview Elementary have learned about the dulcimer, a stringed instrument, and how to play it.

“It sounds just like a guitar,” said third-grade student Alexa Blevins.

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Students were taught to strum with the pick in the right hand and use the left hand to hold the strings down for different notes, indicated by numbers on the wood beneath the strings.

To help them pick up tunes and rhythms quickly, music teacher Martha Harris has the children play familiar songs, such as “Old McDonald.”

“It’s a lot of hard work and concentration,” Harris said.

The instrument is a zither, meaning the strings span the entire length of the instrument, which is placed either on the floor or in a person’s lap.

The shape of the instrument can be either a teardrop, hourglass, rectangle of diamond shape.

The dulcimer is thought to have been created around the mid-1800s and is used in the Appalachian and Ozark regions.

Each student sits on the floor with a music book in front of the dulcimer, as Harris also calls out the numbers for each note.

Some dulcimers are made from cardboard and wood, while others are made solely from wood. Harris made many of the instruments with parts purchased online and with the help of friends.

She chose to integrate dulcimer lessons into the third-grade music curriculum because the instrument is mentioned in the third grade textbook.

She had heard about the instrument in 1992 after attending workshops, but has only recently brought the instrument to the classroom.

“They always say, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to learn how to play an instrument,’” Harris said.

But, in the end, they all learned.

When asked if they enjoy playing the dulcimer, students smiled and said yes.

Harris has also taught the third grade children at Cedar Park Elementary to play the dulcimer. She has taught music for 20 years.