Renaissance Music With Resonance is Psalteries
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February 21, 2016
I had a friend who used to play the zither, and then moved on to the strangest instrument I’d ever seen – it was like an oversized zither she leaned against her chest, plucking the strings. She called it a psaltery, and it had a very strange sound – very resonant, but still with the plucked tones I’d expect from, say, a harpsichord. What really amazed me was that she’d made it herself. The psaltery is one of the oldest musical instruments we know about – it’s earliest reference dates back to the time of Thucydides and Classical Greece.The entire instrument is made as a sounding board and strung with metal strings – the number of strings depends on the type of psaltery. Beginners models can have as few as 12, and those based off of the Turkish style can have as many as 72. One of the strong points of a psaltery is how easy it is to play – because of how the strings are arranged, it’s very easy to make chords, even if you have small hands. You will develop interesting callouses if you don’t use a pick, though! Different sizes and styles of psalteries exist. Smaller ones have a lighter tone, and are called Tenor Psalteries, larger ones have a deeper tone and are bass psalteries. As mentioned earlier, depending on the region it’s emulating, it may have a greatly divergent number of strings; a few run their strings in pairs, called courses – sort of like pianos do. This gives extra volume. A recent innovation of the Psaltery is the bowed Psaltery, which has half the strings designed to be played like a fiddle, while the other hand plucks counterpoint on the “square half” What keeps me interested in the psaltery is watching my friend play it – admittedly, she’s playing in an Irish folk-rock band, but it’s got a distinctive sound, and she makes quite a show out of it!