'Dulcimer' is derived from words meaning 'sweet music', and anyone who has heard the dulcimer being played knows that is true!
The dulcimer is the only musical instrument originated in the United States, mostly by necessity, by the early settlers of the Appalachian Mountains. Delicate musical instruments did not often survive the travels through the 'New World'; broken pieces were salvaged to cobble together any configuration that could be used to produce the folk music of the immigrants.
Early dulcimers were often wooden rectangular boxes, and were very common in the Appalachians; it has only been in the last 50 years or so that they have become commonplace across the rest of the country. Mountain Dulcimer, Appalachian Dulcimer, and Lap Dulcimer all refer to the same instrument.
The dulcimer is one of the easiest instruments to play, as tabs are written with the fret numbers as well as musical tablature, so you can play by number. There are numerous festivals and clubs across the nation that offer lessons, seminars and good ol' jammin--an excellent way to meet new friends and have fun! And many clubs use their music to perform community service in nursing homes and other venues.