Jeanne Page,
Irish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer,
Scottish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer
(Mel Bay, 2003)

When I first started playing hammered dulcimer less than a decade ago, there weren't a lot of books written specifically for that peculiar stringed instrument. However, with a strong background in music, and given that I was playing mostly folk music, it was not all that important. There weren't many tunes I couldn't locate in a fiddle book or learn by ear. As I began teaching students who didn't have a strong musical background, I found Linda Lowe Thompson's and Maddie MacNeil's books indispensable -- but that's pretty much where the library ended.

Mel Bay's series of instructional music books has gone a long way in filling the void with two new books, not only for hammered dulcimer players, but for dulcimer players interested in Celtic music: Scottish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer and Irish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer. Within these covers are songs you will immediately associate with each country -- songs like "Annie Laurie," "Auld Lang Syne" and "Comin' Thro' the Rye" from Scotland, and "Cockles and Mussles," "Danny Boy" and "The Minstrel Boy" from Ireland. Each book has 30 tunes and songs. If you can sing and play at the same time, you'll be pleased to find the lyrics to the songs are included as well.

Jeanne Page has done a marvelous job of arranging each piece. They are each presented with a melody-only version on the left-hand page and an intermediate arrangement on the right-hand page. The book is Mel Bay's traditional sturdy standard, so it behaves itself and lies there nicely when you place it on the music stand. Guitar chords are included if you are lucky enough to have an accompanist, or for giving you hints on creating a more advanced arrangement of your own. Although the chords provided are for the most part fairly basic -- this is after all folk music -- there are a few places where the chords are different than what I've known to be the traditional arrangements, which can probably be attributed to a difference in locale.

The only thing I found missing is some indication of tempo. Is it a slow jig, reel or air, strathspey, march or measure, is it played 60 or 120 beats to the measure -- it's up to you. For instance, "Garten Mother's Lullabye" and "The Gentle Maiden" are listed in 6/8 time (usually a sure indication of a jig beat), but both are really airs. One could argue that since most of these songs are so popular, everyone knows what "Danny Boy" should sound like. And I've heard "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" played as a delightful air and a vigorously danced Civil War waltz. But for the songs that are a wee bit more obscure, like the O'Carolan or some of the Robert Burns pieces, this information would have been helpful.

I've also found an accompanying CD or tape is also very helpful for beginners, especially one that plays the song at an introductory tempo, and then at performance tempo. According to, there is no such bonus available for this pair of books. But still, these are certainly valuable additions to the dulcimer player's library, especially for the price.

- Rambles
written by Alanna Berger
published 3 July 2004

Buy the Irish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer from

Buy the Scottish Songbook for Hammered Dulcimer from