Why Every Child Should Play
The Guitar is the King among American folk music instruments. This instrument has a long history dating back to the ancient Babylonian civilization, but the modern version was developed by Spanish and Italian luthiers (stringed instrument makers) during the 18th century. The American folk guitar, which uses steel strings rather than the gut strings of its predecessors, grew in popularity during the late 19th century, gradually taking its place as the dominant folk instrument of our time.
Because it is easily portable and is suitable for so many different kinds of music ( folk, classical, rock, jazz, pop, swing, etc.) the guitar has found its way into the hands of millions of people over that last 100 years. It is ideal for accompanying folk songs and is used extensively as a rhythm instrument in various kinds of string bands.
Timmy plays a Gallagher guitar made by the Gallagher Guitar Company in Wartrace, Tennessee. It is a smaller body guitar (A-70 Model) with a beautiful tone, especially suited for finger-picking. For more information on Gallagher Guitars: gallagherguitar.com
The Banjo was first played in Africa. Actually, its earliest version, called a "banjar", was fashioned from a gourd, using an animal skin for the drum head and gut strings which were stretched up the neck of the gourd. The African slaves are credited with introducing the banjo into the United States, and over the last 100 years it has become one of the most popular of all folk instruments.
On the 5-string banjo, two major styles of playing have developed, including the old-time, "clawhammer", style which evolved in the Appalachian mountain region from African influences, and the "Bluegrass" style which involves the fast three-finger picking popularized by Earl Scruggs. The 4-string or "tenor" banjo is used primarily in "dixieland" jazz music. The banjo is not difficult to play, and with a good teacher, it's great fun learning how.
Timmy plays an open back banjo which was custom made for him by the Deering Banjo Company in Lemon Grove, California. The banjo has a Grenadilla wooden tone-ring and an extra-deep pot, which gives a more sustained ring (great for song accompaniment).
By the way, Deering makes an excellent beginner banjo called "The Goodtime Banjo", which is a gem of an instrument, and is recommended to anyone interested in having a high quality yet inexpensive banjo. Visit their website at deeringbanjos.com.
The Hammered Dulcimer is thought to have originated in Persia (the cradle of civilization) some 6000 years ago. It has been popular in the folk music of Europe, the middle east, Russia and China for centuries, and has enjoyed a revival of interest in the United States over the last 25 years, where it was popular in the late 19th century. Earlier it is known to be one of the first musical instruments to arrive in the United States with the settlers at Jamestown, Virginia (1607), as noted in the ship's log.
Since the dulcimer is played by striking the strings with small wooden mallets, it is considered a forerunner of the piano. There is a version of this instrument which is plucked, the "psaltery", and it is this type of "dulcimer" and "psaltery" which are mentioned in the Bible.
For a full line of excellent hammered dulcimers, lap dulcimers and bowed psalteries, you may want to visit Song of the Wood in Black Mountain, NC or on their website at songofthewood.com.
There are several types of concertinas and related "squeezeboxes". The English Concertina was invented in the mid-1800's by an English physicist, Sir Charles Wheatstone (who is also famous for discovering the "Wheatstone Bridge" in electrical physics).
The concertina is in a family of "free reed" instruments, which includes the accordion, melodion, harmonium and even the harmonica. These instruments have flat metal reeds which vibrate as the air passes over them, with each musical note being determined by the length of the reed.
The concertina pictured here is a 48-key treble. It's an English concertina, which means that any given button will produce the same note whether the bellows are pressed or pulled. An "Anglo" concertina has a similar shape, but is set up with a different button pattern, with each button producing a different note on the push and pull of of the bellows.
Concertinas tend to be difficult to find, and can be very expensive due to their complex design. Timmy's concertina was made by Steve Dickinson in England. Dickinson has retained the Wheatstone brand name and he crafts beautiful instruments using some of the original tools and jigs from the old Wheatstone factory. His instruments are copies of the finest Wheatsone models from the early 20th century.
If you are interested in finding a concertina for sale, try The Button Box in Amherst, MA at buttonbox.com.
The Penny Whistle is a simple folk instrument which has been most popular in the Celtic music of Ireland, England and Scotland. Various whistle-type instruments have been played for centuries all over the world, and must have been one of the very earliest musical instruments known to man. The modern penny whistle is derived from earlier cousins - the hornpipe, pipcorn, flageol, tin whistle and other versions - fashioned from bone, clay, reed, bamboo, ivory, wood or metal.
Penny Whistles have six tone holes and play two full octaves in a specific key.
Whistles are generally available in the keys of Bb, C, D, Eb, F or G, a different size for each key. The popular "Generation" whistle (pictured above in blue or red) costs about $10.00 and is a favorite among some of the best players in the world, including Paddy Maloney of the Chieftans. "Generation" whistles are available from this website in the store. If you have purchased a penny whistle from Timmy, you might want to follow this link to find some excellent instruction on learning how to play it:
Timmy plays a wooden penny whistle in the key of Bb. Timmy's brother, Chris Abell, is a flutemaker who also produces very fine whistles of wood and sterling silver (also pictured above) in Asheville, North Carolina. Check out abellflute.com.
The Raggedy Man
The Raggedy Man is a percussion instrument used in folk music to tap out rhythms, often played with old-time string band music. Early versions of these dancing puppets date back hundreds of years and were commonly known as "Jig-dolls", primarily used by street entertainers in the UK. More common names for this unique instrument are "Limberjack", "Ricki-Tick" or "Dancing Dan". The realistic dancing motions produced by this little man are remakably similar to the actual "buck-dance" and step-dance", a pre-cursor to "clogging", both of which are popular dance styles in the Appalachian region. Because it is so easy to play, this little toy is a perfect "first instrument" for anyone wishing to be involved in folk music.
Timmy's "Raggedy Man" was made by Tad Wright in Horse Shoe, North Carolina.
More information at Wikipedia.
The Ukulele has an interesting story. The instrument evolved in Hawaii from a similar Portuguese instrument called a "machete", which was brought to the islands in the late 19th century when Portuguese immigrants came to work in the sugar plantations. With a few alterations, a new tuning and a new name - "Ukulele" (which literally means "jumping flea" - the Hawaiians made it their own. The instrument defined the music of the native population for many years and eventually became Hawaii's national instrument. Because it is relatively easy to play and has such a sweet tone, this instrument has enjoyed a huge resurgence of popularity over the last decade, and is heard in many genres of music. There are four sizes of Ukuleles - soprano, concert, tenor and baritone,
Susana's Ukelele is an Oscar Schmidt Tenor OU4 made by Washburn, one of the sweetest we've ever heard.
You can learn more about Ukuleles here.
The Bowed Psaltery is related to the ancient bowed harp, which was the earliest stringed instrument known to use a bow for vibrating the strings. The name "psaltery" is from the root word "psalm", meaning "song". This instrument should not be confused with the Biblical "psaltery", which is a plucked instrument resembling the hammered dulcimer.
The bowed psaltery pictured here was designed in Europe in the 19th century as an aid for teaching children simple music theory. It is set up like a piano keyboard in that the white keys are "bowed" on the right and the black keys on the left. Strings are bowed individually between the steel posts to produce single note melodies. The sound of the psaltery is very sweet and ethereal. It is one of the simplest musical instruments to learn how to play. With a little experimenting, anyone can find a simple tune on this intruiging and delightful stringed instrument.
Timmy's bowed psaltery was made by friend Tom Fellenbaum. You can find psalteries at the Song of the Wood in Black Mountain, NC. Visit their website at www.songofthewood.com.
The lap dulcimer is also known as the "mountain" dulcimer or "Appalachian" dulcimer because of its popularity in the mountains of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It's name is borrowed from the ancient hammered dulcimer and is certainly appropriate since the word is derived from the ancient root word "dulce", meaning "sweet".
The lap dulcimer a three or four stringed instrument related to earlier European instruments, particularly the German "scheitholt", which migrated to America with the early European immigrants.
The distinctive sound of the dulcimer is derived from its "drone" strings which produce a sound reminiscent of the bagpipes. It is played by plucking or strumming the strings with the right hand while playing the melody (or chords) on the fret board with the left hand. The instrument offers a wide range of playing styles and various modal tunings (dorian, ionian, aeolian, mixolydian). Before the guitar became popular in the early 20th century, the lap dulcimer was the instrument of choice for accompanying folk songs and ballads in the southern Appalachian mountains, and it continues to be a defining influence in that region's music.
Timmy plays a dulcimer made by Tad Wright. You can inquire about Tad's instruments by contacting Timmy.