What are “Chromatics” and why do I need them?

Chromatics are the “extra”, added, in-between notes, beyond the diatonic scale, which the hammer dulcimer is known for.  The white keys of the piano are the diatonic scale of “C” (diatonic simply means “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do”) (starts and ends with “C” – there is a diatonic scale for each named note).  The black keys are the “incidentals” or chromatics that complete the chromatic 13 note scale (“C, C#, D, D#, E, F, etc”).  PLEASE don’t drift away yet!  It ain’t that complicated!!  That’s what makes the hammer dulcimer so easy to learn to play, especially if you don’t have a music theory background.  But a little study of very basic music theory might benefit you at this point if you aren’t sure what a chromatic scale verses a diatonic scale is AND you are considering adding chromatics to your instrument.  Did you know there are numerous National Hammer Dulcimer Champions who didn’t read music or understand the difference between diatonic or chromatic when they won?  Honest!!!

But now, let’s talk about your decision.  You can absolutely play tons of most any genre of music without chromatics added to your straight diatonic hammer dulcimer.  BUT, if you think you might need them in the future, these extra notes are not located in the middle of your normal tuning scheme but are located off in the corners of the instrument where you never play, out of the way, so you only go to them when you specifically need those chromatic notes (you can interchange between a chromatic and diatonic instrument effortlessly).  You can play your chromatic instrument without concern for these extra notes forever, if you wish.  But one day, after a workshop with a great teacher/performer, you discover the need for these chromatic notes to play a new wonderful tune.  Since you have chromatics, “wa-lah”, you finally use them and a grand new era in your dulcimer life starts to unfold!

The only negative to having chromatics is the cost, BUT it is an investment you will receive back if you ever resell your instrument.

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