The psaltery is a stringed musical instrument belonging to the zither family. Psalteries are often depicted in the manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures of 12th to 15th century Europe. The psalteries of Ancient Greece resembled small harps. Modern psalteries are based on the guitar zither and the autoharp.
Psalteries have appeared in a variety of forms and styles throughout history. On the earlier instruments that resembled harps, the strings were plucked. On subsequent versions, the strings could either be struck or bowed.
The bowed psaltery was introduced in the early 20th century and is the style most frequently seen and played today. Modern psalteries are triangular in shape, played with a bow, with strings running down both sides of the soundboard. This unique triangular shape allows the end portion of each string to be bowed.
Here’s another great thing about modern bowed psalteries. You don’t need to learn fingering positions. Each string produces a single note. The bow plays just one note at a time, so the psaltery is primarily a melody instrument. Its haunting sound is well suited to folk songs, hymns, and carols.
More Psaltery Facts
A person who performs on this string instrument is called a psalterist.
Notable psalterists include Satis Coleman, James Jones, Rick Long, Lowell Mason, Eric Meier, Donna Missigman, Ann Tucker, and George James Webb.
King David Playing a Psaltery
Girolamo Da Santa Croce
Fine Art Reproduction on Canvas
Listen to the Bowed Psaltery
Introduction by James Jones
James Jones has been building custom musical instruments in his rural Bedford, Virginia shop since 1978. He produces an entire line of fine string instruments, including bouzoukis, hammered dulcimers, Appalachian dulcimers, harps, mandolins, zithers–and of course, psalteries. Visit his website, James Jones Instruments to see what’s available now. This introduction to the instrument is played on one of his 2-1/2 octave alto bowed psalteries.
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Master Works Bowed Psaltery with Case
- Available in Your Choice of Cherry, Walnut, or Sipo Woods
- Beautiful Harrison Rose soundhole inlay
- Fully chromatic range of F above middle C to third Bb above middle C
- Includes bow made of real Mongolian horsehair, tuning wrench, rosin, string gauge chart, and tuning scheme
- Comes with a high-density foam-padded navy blue case, covered with water resistant Cordura
- Case has a zippered pocket for the bow and a shoulder strap for carrying ease
- Carefully inspected for accurate hitch pin height to insure smooth movements of the bow from note to note
- Backed with a 2-year limited warranty
- Ideal instrument for a child interested in music
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