How does the bowed psaltery fit into the broader musical landscape? We know it does well with hymms and traditional music, American and Celtic. What about pop, rock, jazz, blues, classical, new age, world?

If you have some thoughts about bowed psaltery and how it can work with genres outside of the traditional, please post about it!  Any examples to share? 

Views: 830

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

One aspect that has become increasingly prevalent in my thinking is choice of pieces.

One initially sees it in the prevalence of hymns in the repertoire. That is partially mediated by the knowledge of likely BP players, but also by the orientation of the hymn style in itself, towards organ pieces. The common ground here is that both intruments are quite broad in their sub harmonics, and in general the same applies to other harmonic instruments like harps, hurdies and dulcimers.

On the other hand, it's not quite so outstanding for backing tracks, and doubling fast attack instruments. Quite a lot of English folk fits that, but on the other hand there are some pieces where the ethereal overtones really bring the work alive, communicating musically what is left hidden between the lines, the ghastly, the ghostly, and the weird.

A third class is the way we actually exceed the pitch of the harmonica, the blues harp, adding a smoothness lacking in the rasp of that. I'm therefore half tempted to add some bal-musette accordeon, even Dutch street organ, but far from everything there.

But that surely isn't all. Any other thoughts, folks?

 Hi Jeremy, I've wanted to respond since I read your post, but I haven't found time until now.


We had a similar thread a while back so I'm going to merge that one and this.


I think the bowed psaltery has tremendous potential in the new age genre. Our members Dari Lewis and Philippa Anne Reed have given us a glimpse of such use in their work.  For those into energy work, meditation or massage the bowed psaltery can really set the right mood. I think possibilities are endless there! 


Recently Tish Westman of Westman instruments sold a bowed psaltery to a fairly well know local blues player (in the Chicagoland area). I contacted him and he hasn't quite worked out how he's going to use it or integrate it into his music but I asked him to keep me updated on this. I can see the psaltery fitting into the blues for sure.


This years Bowed Psaltery Symphony is all classical works. We have The Minuet to The Hall of the Mountain King. Moonlight Sonata is proving challenging but Tish the Wizard is improvising and by gosh I think we'll do it  : )  Another good fit, probably an obvious one as well.


To keep up with the faster  music, jigs and reels we will have to work on abbreviating our playing to keep up unless we can develop a bionic arm, but it can be done. Ornamentation would have to be minimized or eliminated but bare melody would probably give us the room to move. But maybe I'm mis-speaking here, it's speed of the arm movement that's needed correct? of course with accuracy and a pleasing tone...I suspect we haven't seen how fast the bowed psaltery can be played yet. Back to the bionic arm, think about kids that start playing an instrument at an early age and the astounding things they can do. Maybe we just have to get more of the kids into it. Their agility and adaptability are incredible.


With that said there is a member who I intend to call on and ask him to share with us some ragtime that he plays. Also another player indicated that they have started playing polka and I need more info on that which I'll be sure to share.


In the end I suspect that if there's a genre that someone wants to play and the bowed psaltery as we know it today puts barriers up modifications will be made to overcome them. As old as it's roots may be, in my mind the bowed psaltery is in its infancy! 


I'd love to hear from more members on this!


Yes, polka and ragtime : )

If I'm understanding your post correctly Jeremy, some of what you are referring to is articulation. I am having the hardest time working that into my psaltery playing. My music teacher is probably ready to give up on me but she has made me aware of how important it is. Now when I listen to music I pay special attention to the musician's articulation.


Fair warning here, explaining articulation could get deep into music theory. Here's the wikipedia link for musical articulation, though I don't think it's particularly helpful for anyone unfamiliar with text book music theory.


My teacher explained that without articulation you are just playing a string of notes. I think of it as the personality or life of a musical composition. More specifically it's the way you play the individual notes that creates the life of the melody. For instance you emphasize some notes and not others, you might play some notes very lightly or quickly and others slowly or with great emphasis. Composers work this into their pieces in various ways that I'm not going to even start talking about. 


I've noticed some psaltery players add a level of articulation naturally when they know how a piece normally sounds. What I've noticed about myself is that I will add emotional articulation once I have a piece memorized and am relaxed. Unfortunately that's not very often and even worse that's not necessarily consistent or technically correct and often takes liberty with the timing. If I'm playing alone it's not such a big deal but if I am playing with others chaos is the likely result.


I know that reading music and music thoery isn't of interest to everyone but like the rules of the road it's necessary if people want to play well together and it isn't necessarily that hard. Many of you already know a lot more music theory than you realize and you learned it by playing with others. 


I'm rambling so I'll wrap this up by saying that you don't have to study music theory or get complicated in order to have a whole lot of fun playing music alone or with others. However, if you want to perform and take your performance to the next level then the things Jeremy refers to are very important. How much you stage your music depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

Don't have to know much theory? Certainly not. Not even about articulation. It's just like singing, or even talking. Some boring academic droning on about bone-dry subject matter could be thought of as, at least tonally speaking, just playing the notes. On the other hand, listening to a moving orator, people having fun, or fighting, or just speaking in animated tones, this is more like expressive playing.The only trick, then, is to get beyond being reoccupied by technique, and feel the music. Or, as my old dancing master, folklorist Richard Chase, used to yell at us, "Don't think, DANCE!"

Farther up the thread people have compared the BP sound and manner of playing to other instruments. I'd like to add to that. Despite it being a string instrument, and a bowed one at that, it seems to me that the unwavering, (no vibrato or note-bending), and sustained legato, plus the cathedral-like natural reverb, are all reminiscent of organs. As long as some of you are transposing scores from other instruments to the BP, howz about trying something from that repertoire?

Well said Grego, some speakers are very lively and colorful where as others just drone when they speak. Perfect metaphor.

It's all about putting life in your playing and I am really struggling with that. I'm very animated when I speak to people but I can't seem to get that into my playing. I won't give up and thankfully my music teacher is very patient with me.

You sound like my music teacher....phrasing, emphasis on specific beats in a measure and so on. Don't give the audience the best of the song until towards the end, tension and release, etc..

Some players just do this naturally, again, most often when they know how the tune should sound. It's hardest when your don't know a tune and are trying to play it.

Well, it gives me something to strive for, but I want to have fun along the way. There is certainly room for both!



Featured Video

Amplified Psaltery with Cello Strings built by Rick Long

This video is a personal favorite because it shows a unique type of bowed psaltery with a gorgeous sound. When I heard it I broke out in goose bumps!

Featured Song

Click on the title for the current
featured sheet music!

Clergy's Lamentation




What is Psaltery Strings worth to you?
A dollar a month?
Your help to offset the cost of keeping our Community alive is appreciated.

Thank you.



Members who build bowed psalteries for sale

Spring Creek Psalteries - Sharon & Terry Kirby


From the Wood - Wayne Gaydos


to see his work visit

Waynie Psaltery - Wayne Simms


Prairie Psaltery - Richard Celata


Loon Song Psalteries-Charlie Marshall


New Tradition Dulcimers- Dan Daniels


Psalteries by Dave- Dave Lucas


Jon Williams Psalteries
(386) 853-0944

Westman Instruments - Tish & Greg Westman

Ringing Strings - Rick Long

Michael J King Instrumetns - Diatonic Psalteries

Inspired Instruments – Carol and Joe Esch

James Jones Instruments

Omega Strings – Richard Spencer

Master Works Bowed Psalteries - Russell Cook

Members that teach Bowed Psaltery

Paul G.Sykes - MS  

Located in Hattiesburg
Contact Paul at

or call him at



Gregg Schneeman - California
Contact Gregg here on Psaltery Strings


Peter Tommerup - California
San Francisco Bay Area
Bowed Psaltery and other Instruments


Celeste Howard Ray
Bowed Psaltery lessons via Skype
Skype name celesteray88


Maureen Barnes - Illinois
Bowed Psaltery lessons in Bloomington, IL


Dona Benkert -

Lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
Phone: 773.728.6000
& Folk-Lore Center, Warrenville, IL
Phone: 630.393.1247

Tish Westman - West Virginia
Lessons at Tamarack, Beckley, WV. Wednesday workshops also available for individual classes and to teach at festivals.
Sunday "Jam" 3:30 to 6:00. All instruments welcome, play mostly Old Time, Celtic & Gospel Music, not opposed to trying any tune called, once did a rap on Bowed Psalteries.

Rick Long - Tennessee
Lessons at Rick's home/workshop in Clinton, 30 mins N of Knoxville
(865) 660-4026

Karla Armstrong - Pennsylvania
Karla plays a variety of instruments and does workshops as well. Please visit her web site for additional information or contact her via the web site or the information below.
(717) 632-8099

Carol Esch - Kentucky
Lessons in Carol's home/workshop south of Lexington.

Honey Smith Walls - Florida
e-mail Honey for more info
Melbourne, FL

Visit Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Please sign up on the bowed psaltery players list

Tish's list is a valuable resource when searching for other players.

If you are already on Tish's list, why don't you stop in and update your info? While your there take a look to see if there are new players in your area. Who knows, you might get together and make a recording.

© 2022   Created by Donna Malus.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

To add a scrolling message to your NingBar, change this text, and add the code to your Custom Code Box. If you want, you can add simple links like this: Visit JenSocial This is a great way to make announcements to your site visitors.