Modern tunes on a classic instrument

Award winning dulcimer player knows traditional songs but prefers classic rock. June 7, 2017-4pm

You can learn to play it in a few minutes, but it takes much longer to master it. The dulcimer is a traditional Appalachian stringed instrument.

One East Tennessee man became an award winning dulcimer player after he was introduced to the instrument when he worked at Silver Dollar City -- which would eventually become what we now know as Dollywood.

Tim Simek's first job out of high school was working in a dulcimer shop. He showed people how to play a simple tune on a Mountain Dulcimer.

His other job back then was tuning a much more complicated instrument: a Hammer Dulcimer.

"Within the many hours it took to do that and plucking around to see if it was in tune I realized how it was set up and that it wouldn't be that difficult to play. The hardest thing for me to realize was that you were supposed to use hammers," he said. "So I had these big blisters on my fingers. Once I finally got used to using the hammers it became a lot more fun and a lot less painful."

Years later it is less painful and more fun for Tim Simek and the people who listen to him.

He knows how to play traditional Celtic music on this traditional instrument but he prefers a contemporary sound.

"If you go to a crowd of people they want to hear things that they know. Things that bring them back. And I like to give that to them," he said.

He's self-taught. He plays by ear. And he practices.

"Just a lot of it is repetition. You know the 10,000 hour rule that they say. I've had more than that. Two to three times that. And a lot of it is just a gift," he said.

He's won awards for his gift.

"When I won the Hammer Dulcimer contest in 2011 I just wanted one of these dulcimers which runs about 3,500 bucks. The contest entry fee was $20," he said.

What's the difference between a dulcimer player and a national champion dulcimer player?

"Persistence. Now I have to say I didn't win the first time I went. You can see later on I have an array of trophies over there. I've gone five times and I think I have four awards over there. I did pretty well. A lot of it is luck. And a lot of it is the fact that there aren't a lot of people who play as much as I do," he said.

He has plenty of standing jobs. He plays weddings, craft shows and events,  as well as teaches dulcimer classes.

His son Michael is his roadie, his sound man, and when he is not in school, he is also his accompanist.

Michael plays the guitar, ukelele, and drums and will probably eventually play the dulcimer.

His dad hopes he eventually learns the dulcimer because he likes to encourage young people and build awareness to the instrument.

"It's very nice to bring them to the youth, too, so that they see it... and as they grow up maybe they will say, 'Hey mom and dad, I want to play a hammer dulcimer,'" Tim said.

They'll have a long road ahead if they want to learn to play it like the national dulcimer champion, though.

Starting this Friday June 9 through July you can hear Tim Simek play dulcimer in person at Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales. That's in Downtown Gatlinburg Tuesdays through Fridays.

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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