Once you have an instrument: Become part of a music community. If possible, join a music club. Attend as many festivals as you can. Play - play - play. Play for your church. Play for your friends. Take it with you on vacation. Play in parks. Play in campgrounds. Play for yourself. Set your instrument up, and don't take it down. Put it where you will see it every day.
Just a warning, the instrument is the cheap part. After you buy a hammered dulcimer, stand, and case, you'll be hit with a desire to collect hammers. Tune books and music will fill your home. (We have file cabinets, and stacks of music we've acquired.)
Also, you'll find you need a "cart" to haul your instrument and they can vary considerably. Some folks use four-wheel wagons, others convert baby buggys and strollers. There are also carts that make into chairs. Right now the "hot" item is a Wonder Wheeler. (I bought mine from Campersstore.com) Which reminds me, you'll need a light but comfortable chair/stool. You will find you want a standing and/or sitting dulcimer stand, or better yet, both, so you can play from either position.
But wait, there's more. Hopefully you'll be able to go to festivals. In some states, those are held in hotels. Food, lodging and the tickets into the festival are all pricey. Michigan festivals have the advantage of being really reasonably priced. (Under $10 per person for the festival admission.) They are generally held at county fairgrounds. Camping at the festival site is the best way to "take-in" the event. For that, you'll need a temporary "residence." Tents work, but you may want to move up to a trailer or pop-up. The trailer generally starts out small and modest, but eventually you'll find yourself lusting after one with an awning, air conditioning, slides, and space. Of course, you'll then need a bigger vehicle to pull it.
If you're like us, you get the trailer and the vehicle only to discover that you need a place to store it. And on and on it goes...............
Have questions? Need help?