Lesson 3: Mountain Music - A Family Tradition

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Jean Ritchie is well-known, along with many members of her family for preserving and sharing the Appalachian songs and singing games from Eastern Kentucky that are standard musical repertoire today. Ms. Ritchie grew up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, singing to "accompany her life" and singing with all the members of her family. Jean Ritchie played and sang the dulcimer throughout the twentieth century and still performs occasionally with her chosen instrument.

In addition to using the dulcimer as her accompaniment to life and to performances, she helped her uncle and husband make dulcimers by using her musical ear to tune them before they were finished.

The instrument in the photograph is the mountain dulcimer, simpler to play than the fiddle, the instrument of choice for years in early Appalachia.

National Standard #9: Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture


  • Students will identify how music has been a part of cultures and periods throughout history.
  • Students will identify roles of musicians.