What’s a Dulcijo?
The Dulcijo is an instrument that was created by combining two time-honored traditions of the Appalachian mountains: the mountain dulcimer and the 5-string banjo. Back in the
late 1980s in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, a clawhammer banjo player named Michael Fox began to experiment with using a dulcimer fingerboard on an open-back
banjo. After a lot of experimentation he came up with the current design, which includes a short thumb string, just like a 5-string banjo.
Although the Dulcijo may look just like another small banjo, there are other major differences that make the Dulcijo unique. First of all, it has only three strings, similar to
a mountain dulcimer, which usually only has three or four strings.
The Diatonic Scale
Probably the major difference between the Dulcijo and the 5-string banjo is that the fretboard is diatonic, just like the mountain dulcimer. On
other fretted instruments such as the banjo or guitar, the frets are laid out in a chromatic pattern, evenly divided by half steps throughout the fretboard, which allows you
to play in any of the twelve keys, but also makes things a little more difficult because there are so many "wrong" notes that can be played. By contrast, the Dulcijo
is designed to play in only one key, which simplifies things tremendously. All of the unused notes (or wrong notes, if you will) have been removed and all that's left are
the notes of the key in which you are playing.
Playing melodies is amazingly simple on the Dulcijo. Most of the melody notes are played on the first string. If you add what clawhammer banjo
players call the "bum-ditty" to the melody it results in an instant Dulcijo arrangement. It's also easy to get more of a dulcimer sound on the Dulcijo by simply
moving the melody to the second string and using both the first and third strings as drones. The Dulcijo can also be fingerpicked. You'll find tutorials on each of these
techniques in the Tutorials section and tab examples in the Tablature section.
Another great thing about the Dulcijo is that the three major chords used -- D, G, and A -- can be played either open or by using only your index
finger on one string. The D chord is played open -- that is, no fingers need to hold down any strings at all. The G chord is formed by holding down that 2nd string at the 1st
fret, and the A chord is formed by holding down the 1st string at the first fret. This makes the Dulcijo probably the easiest stringed instrument ever for accompanying your
That should give you an idea of what the Dulcijo is. Check out some of the other sections of the Dulcijo site to learn more.