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bowed psaltery layout

Jack Campin 12 Sep 14 - 08:11 AM
Phil Cooper 12 Sep 14 - 08:46 AM
Deckman 12 Sep 14 - 09:05 AM
Jack Campin 12 Sep 14 - 09:06 AM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 12 Sep 14 - 09:19 AM
PHJim 12 Sep 14 - 09:43 AM
PHJim 12 Sep 14 - 09:48 AM
GUEST,Rahere 12 Sep 14 - 05:02 PM
GUEST,Claire 12 Sep 14 - 07:34 PM
Deckman 12 Sep 14 - 07:44 PM
Phil Cooper 12 Sep 14 - 11:55 PM
bubblyrat 13 Sep 14 - 07:31 AM
Jack Blandiver 13 Sep 14 - 04:10 PM
GUEST,Ed 13 Sep 14 - 06:01 PM
Jack Blandiver 13 Sep 14 - 06:41 PM
GUEST,Rahere 14 Sep 14 - 10:20 AM
GUEST,Blandiver (Astray) 14 Sep 14 - 01:15 PM
Musket 14 Sep 14 - 01:52 PM
GUEST,Blandiver (Astray) 14 Sep 14 - 02:03 PM
Phil Cooper 14 Sep 14 - 11:21 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 15 Sep 14 - 10:06 AM
Jack Campin 15 Sep 14 - 12:09 PM
Irene M 15 Sep 14 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,Rahere 15 Sep 14 - 03:36 PM
Jack Campin 15 Sep 14 - 03:52 PM
Jack Blandiver 15 Sep 14 - 05:09 PM
CupOfTea 15 Sep 14 - 07:37 PM
GUEST,Rahere 16 Sep 14 - 07:32 PM
Jack Blandiver 17 Sep 14 - 04:28 AM
Jack Campin 17 Sep 14 - 07:04 AM
Jack Blandiver 17 Sep 14 - 08:04 AM
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Subject: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 08:11 AM

Looking at a bowed psaltery hanging a friend's wall last night - it had the usual string layout, white notes on the right and black notes on the left.

If you're playing with two bows this is very inefficient.

Seems to me you could do a lot better with either:

- a diatonic layout, left and right split like push and pull on a diatonic harmonica or melodeon

- a chromatic layout, like a B/C or C#/D melodeon; left in one key and right in the other.

Has anybody made them either way?


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 08:46 AM

I've seen a two sided version with the white keys on one side and the black key on the opposite side, so you can cross bow up a chromatic scale. I used to sometimes pluck harmonies with my thumb, while bowing, but that meant I had to sit with it on my lap. Last time I played one in a house concert the host's dog was crying. So I cut the tune short.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 09:05 AM

I have sent this thread to friend "Claire", in Washington state, USA. She is an excellant performer using this instrument. Given time, I'm sure she'll jump in on this thread. bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 09:06 AM

I've seen a two sided version with the white keys on one side and the black key on the opposite side, so you can cross bow up a chromatic scale.

Yes, that's the one I saw on the wall last night. It's the same idea as the old centre-pivot-keys melodica and I never found that very playable either.

I've never seen anybody do a fast rhythmic tune on a bowed psaltery.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 09:19 AM

Is the bowed psaltery more popular in the USA than here ?

My first encounter was in a small room at an early music workshop somewhere in Yorkshire
about 35 years ago.
A terrible yet oddly appealing sound.
Nastier than any reacket being made by local punk bands back them.
I wanted one, self-build kits were on sale, but I couldn't afford any.

The Bass psaltery sounds very interesting - full of potential for my purposes,
but they only seem to be available in the USA, and far too expensive
to purchase and import to UK.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: PHJim
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 09:43 AM

A Ukelin is essentially a bowed psaltery with some chords added, but they seem to have a different string layout, although I can't recall what it is.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: PHJim
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 09:48 AM

Ukelin


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 05:02 PM

The US plays them with a late mediaeval archet bow, which produces a very tinny sound. The Germans use a 1/16 violin bow, which has at least double the width and so produces a more mellow tone.
And if you want a bass one, look at the Japanese.
To some extent, the whole point of the instrument is its resonance, which means you don't realy want fast runs, for starters.
There are a mere fistful of players in the UK, although I suspect there are more around than are ever seen. Celeste Ray Howard in the States is getting some competition from the UK's Phillippa Ann Reed, for example, but as the BowedPsaltery site has pretty much been taken over by some excessively opinionated Americans, I don't know where they've got to, having left some months back.
If you want one, don't bother making one, they're pretty cheap from Thomann.
What I think Phil's talking about is an experimental model with the soundchest rotated into a vertical position, and the accidentals and main notes on opposite sides of the "side" whch has now become the "top". They are hard to hold, however, as both sides are covered in strings. The advantage is a constant distance between note and accidental, unlike the conventional BP where it decreases all the way up.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Claire
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 07:34 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Bob. I found myself trying various techniques in order to create more sustain on my notes, so the quest for speed with the bowed psaltery is not really high on my list - don't know if I'd ever want to play fast enough to play with die-hard fiddlers.   Here is a link to my version of Jay Ungar's Lovers' Waltz:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuJxeaOrBp8

I started out with plastic-haired bows because they seemed more mellow, but I'm now playing with Rick Long's horsehair bows and love the sound.

If you want to see speed and accuracy, you can't do better (from what I've seen) than Ms. Nozomi Nose - here's a link to her "Whiskey Before Breakfast."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOYE5AEkd0U

My duo partner Hank and I like using the psaltery on a variety of styles - swing, standards, fiddle tunes, folk ballads. Cognizant of the effect it can have on dogs and cats and sometimes hearing aids, we use it sparingly in performances.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 07:44 PM

I actually watched in amazemnt as Clair's psaltry cracked three windows at our local church ... bad bad bob


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 12 Sep 14 - 11:55 PM

I had a viola da gamba bow for awhile that did not contribute to the tinny sound. Last time I seriously used it was on a recording, where the annoying factor could be kept to a minimum.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: bubblyrat
Date: 13 Sep 14 - 07:31 AM

A member of the English Folk Group "The Yetties" (so called because they come from Yetminster !) plays the bowed psaltery rather skilfully. I once witnessed a performance of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas " and it sounded very good, if a little "scratchy".I have never ,in my 67 years,seen or heard anyone else playing one !


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 13 Sep 14 - 04:10 PM

A Ukelin is essentially a bowed psaltery with some chords added

It's the other way round - a bowed psaltery is a Ukelin with the chords removed, the Ukelin being the pre-folkera antecedent (c. 1920s) of the bowed psaltery (c. 1960s), a faux-folk instrument often marketed as being somehow medieval.

Probably the worst instrument ever invented, I've never heard any bowed psaltery jokes, but then again I've lead a very sheltered life, though not so sheltered I haven't winced as a bowed psaltery made an appearance at a singaround to accompany a traditional song by way of fey folksy authenticity. What on earth are we doing???

Forgive me, but it's not just the once when taking out of my Karadeniz Kemence (AKA Black Sea Fiddle) at a folk club someone in-the-know has told me that it's a bowed psaltery ('Ah! A bowed psaltery! A real medieval instrument!'). Er... no, and no. But it is real, unlike the bowed psaltery.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 13 Sep 14 - 06:01 PM

Probably the worst instrument ever invented?

Nah, that has to be the The Vuvuzela


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 13 Sep 14 - 06:41 PM

I like vuvuzelas - they're ceremonial horns with a prehistoric provenance and not likely to turn up in yr local folk club any time soon. That said, I bet someone's going to come along and contradict me on both those points!


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 10:20 AM

Actually, Jack B, the BP has a documented provenance in a German Patent of 1925, and the Ukelin 1926, registered 1925. However, the 1925 Patent is rather more a bowed zither than the modern BP, which developed over the next few years as an educational instrument - and suffered from the bad associations of its being promoted in Nazi Germany.
And mine isn't tinny at all. Depends on how heavy-handedly you play it, how much rosin you apply, and how much you predress the strings.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Blandiver (Astray)
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 01:15 PM

I think the tinnyness is inevitable because of the way it's bowed close to the bridge pin so it brings out a higher harmonic, like bowing a violin too close to the bridge.

The Clemens Neuber patent for 1925 is for a 'violin zither' rather than a bowed psaltery as such; a very different beast with none of the mediaeval overtones of 'psaltery', though a differing sort of Volkishness as you suggest. Calling these things psalteries is pretty bogus; selling them as 'early' instruments (as the Early Music Shop has been doing since the 70s) even more so.

The violin zither still sounds pretty ghastly, the sound hardly improved by the chords:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nkfy0g6Ltsc


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Musket
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 01:52 PM

As you ask Jack...

Four years ago at a folk night near Doncaster during the SA World Cup..

I was that soldier. (My SA daughter in Law had bought it me and I couldn't resist. The landlord said it was an improvement on the bagpipes a few weeks earlier!)


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Blandiver (Astray)
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 02:03 PM

Nice one, Musket.

There's been a bit of concern expressed about Otamatones here in the past, but from what I've seen & heard they sound rather inoffensive.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 11:21 PM

I sometimes referred to the bowed psaltery that I played in concerts as a fiddle for autoharp players. They have their place. I have another friend who started a whole bowed psaltery recording (she and I once did the start of dueling banjos at a show). She stopped, because she couldn't stand to listen to all the rough cuts in a row. Mine was hand made by a friend, and I'm not getting rid of it. We just don't take it on the road that much.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 10:06 AM

I am seriously surprised to hear the bowed psaltery is a 'fake'.

those fraudulent northern early music spiv bastards...

I was a naive 20 year old and they took me in completely.

Though I'd still want a Bass bowed psaltery though if I could ever afford one.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Campin
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 12:09 PM

It occurs to me that you could easily intensify the buzz of the psaltery by fitting bray pins.

And using very fine wire like the stuff they use for the sympathetic strings of sitars, you could make a sopranino psaltery about the size of a ukulele. You should be able to get it two octaves above the normal ones. A resonator cone might give it a bit more oomph.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Irene M
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 02:34 PM

I made my own bowed psaltery in school when I was 16. I thereafter made a further 5 or 6 for other people including the Corries.
You can only play one note at a time, dodging over to the other side of the box to reach the sharps and flats. For a longer note, use a longer bow. I followed Bob Common's instructions on that, rather than those in Musical Instruments Made To Be Played, from where I got the plan for the instrument. Bob Common was a Yetti. He made the psaltery played by Bonny Sartin.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 03:36 PM

Now that we've covered the documented facts, I'll refer you back in time to a Chinese Korean instrument of well over 1000 years of age, the yazheng, which from one woodcut appears to be very similar, but played with a rosined stick. There are some vague possibilities one might have made it to Europe or been seen by William of Rubrook, but it's really impossible to know for certain.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Campin
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 03:52 PM

The mediaeval Chinese were clever like that.

Wellcome Institute exhibit


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 05:09 PM

The Korean Ajaeng,,,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHjH8O0ycCY

...about as far away from a bowed psaltery as you could wish to get!


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: CupOfTea
Date: 15 Sep 14 - 07:37 PM

I'll confess. I own three.

The one I love best & have been playing for decades & is the first folk instrument I bought in 1970something at an craft fair. I think I fell in love with the sound of it as it was played by Lorraine Duisit on Trapezoid and John McCutcheon (Winter Solstice) recordings.

I built an Alto psaltery from a kit, though finding the right weight strings for it didn't happen till I found a musician who'd done the same kit & figured them out. I had a hard time playing the alto, since I was used to holding the soprano one up like a fiddle, which did not work with the larger instrument. This experience also had me thinking, like you, that there might be a better way to set them up. Having them set up so you'd have the "white key/black key piano" comparison may well have come from them being invented as a teaching tool, though the idea of the guy who invented 'em having to tune a whole classroom's batch of psalteries in the age before electronic tuners makes me snicker.

There is a very active Psaltery orchestra in southern Ohio & I run into them at festivals. . From contact with more people who play it I've seen psalteries that are set up as diatonic *, or with a different key down each side, some with a larger range (2 octaves seems to be common). Larger psalteries, and those being played with two bows, are set up on stands of various sorts. (my alto fits well on an electric guitar stand on a footstool) At Old Songs, I saw the "Waynie Psaltery" that looks like it was set up sideways, with the whole notes on one side and sharps/flats on the other with a much closer reach- also with a fitting to screw onto a camera tripod and with internal mic.

Different styles of bows do change how good it sounds. Being able to control tension helps, though using a traditional fiddle bow style doesn't work with how many of us play it - a bow & arrow shaped bow, held in the middle rocks easily from side to side with less arm movement. It's hard to play fast, though I've seen several folks play up to actual dancing a jig speed. (on a good day, I can do a few dance tunes to speed) I've also seen doubled bows to play straight thirds, but that seems to be of limited & somewhat gimicky use on an instrument already thought to be peculiar.

I love it, I sing with it, I play it at church a few times a year. Some of the Marx invented instruments like Pianolin or Ulkelin that use plucked chords along with bowed melody are interesting, but the antique ones don't hold up well. Claudia Schmidt's earlier recordings had her doing lovely things with a pianolin, but stopped touring with it because it was so fragile. One of the zither websites gets into all of those variations.

Bowing, but not bloody,

Joanne in Cleveland

* So you'd have to have a stack tuned in different keys, like Bryan Bowers and his stack of autoharps, which reminds me that the crack I use about it being "a fiddle for autoharp players" came from Phil -and in my case, VERY apt.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: GUEST,Rahere
Date: 16 Sep 14 - 07:32 PM

Yes, Jack, I'm very well aware the Schneemans quote the ajaeng, and that they also nicked the work I did identifying the yahzeng, an attitude which is a fair chunk of why I left the BP circle. The ajaeng is a bowed dulcimer, and although there may be some links, it's nowhere near as close. And we still have no certainty of the link a hiundred years ago or more.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 17 Sep 14 - 04:28 AM

A bowed dulcimer? Hmmm... There are more likely contenders in the Icelandic bowed zithers like the Fidla and Langspil - especially the latter which is a more obvious member of the family of European zithers from which the dulcimer derives (hummel, citera, langeliek, Epinete des Vogues etc.).

Otto Anderson's study of The Bowed Harp (more strictly lyre) is still worth a look, taking in the crwth, talharps and jouhikkos that are currently enjoying revival, but there's nothing here that prefigures the BP which is a modern invention derived from the Germanic violin-zither, itself an adaptation of the concert-zither ultimately (I suppose) derived from the hummel / Schiethold family of instruments from which we get the Appalachian dulcimer, early pre-folk examples of which are more hummel-like in appearance.   

There's no bowing of open strings in the west until recent times so I'd say the Ajaeng belongs to a very different & ancient evolutionary trajectory though it is interesting to note that iconographical evidence suggests that the first bowed instruments in the west were lyres rather than lutes, one theory being that the bow evolves from the increasing long wooden plectra that lyre players were using to strum their instruments from ancient times such as can be seen on the famous Semitic Lyre painted on the tomb of Khnumhotpe III (12th Dynasty) which bears an uncanny if entirely coincidental resemblance to a crwth. Nice to see latter-day lyre revivalists getting more into strumming than plucking!

What's the Schneeman's quote? I seem to have unwittingly paraphrased something.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Sep 14 - 07:04 AM

There's no bowing of open strings in the west until recent times

Tromba marina, sort of. (Now that's something you don't see often in folk sessions).

The ajaeng is a bowed koto and looks like a fairly obvious development if you put a koto and a fiddle together in the same room.


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Subject: RE: bowed psaltery layout
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 17 Sep 14 - 08:04 AM

The Tromba Marina was invented to imitate the trumpet by stropping the string on the harmonics; the bridge buzzed like a gurdy trompette leading some modern early music pracitionars to play it primarily as a rhythmic drone. Do we include drone strings here? The hurdy-gurdy notwithstanding, the bourdons of medieval vielles and later lira da braccio come to mind, likewise those of the Welsh crwth. My hypothetical early crwth has a Welsh style bridge and a single drone.

I was thinking less of bogus-psalteries, and more of hammer dulcimers which I've seen being played to good effect by small bows held in each hand.

The Ajaeng is more properly a bowed development of the Kayagum, which shares the same root as the Koto in the Chinese Guzheng. Ideal for bowing owing to the curved body, only the Koreans seem to have made a tradition of it, though there are reports of a Chinese one called a Yaqin, again traditionally played with a rosined stick, though latterly with a bow.

As touched upon above, the development of the bow, and the bowing of stringed instruments seems to have originated in lyre plectra. Interesting that the first instruments we see being bowed in medieval iconography are lyres, and it is as bowed instrument that the lyre survived in western folk musics (crwth, talharp, jouhikko - these latter two having strings of twisted horsehair played with a horsehair bow!) so it's nice to see a non-western (and I guess entirely unrelated) analogue to this in the use of a stick to resonate the strings of the Ajaeng.

*

A few years back, for storytelling purposes, I 'invented' an instrument called the Troll Pipe which uses a bowed string as a drone resonated by one of Hilary's small riqs and all held in place by an overtone flute made from a length of copper pipe with an old Camac whistle mouthpiece and a bell hanging off the end. Hear it HERE


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