I'm in a discussion with a customer that is ordering two custom psalteries.  One of his requests is for me to change the notes that I mark with dots. I have always marked the C's on the chromatic psalteries with a single dot.  I recently started marking the G's with double dots.  His request is to mark the C's and F's because he is used to playing the psaltery he learned on with those notes marked.


He has been playing along with dulcimer players and when he is playing in D he says the C and F naturals being marked tell him which notes to avoid when he's playing along the right side.  To me, that thinking is fine if you are only playing in C or D, but may cause confusion when moving to other keys.  I've seen builder's mark different notes on their psalteries, but it seems the majority mark only C's, or C's and G's.  A few don't mark any notes.  I noticed that Song of the Wood marks C's and G's and then also marks C#'s and F#'s.  I think you have plenty of hints on the left side because of the pin spacing, two together the first is C# and three together the first is F#, of course the exception there can be the lowest and highest notes on the sharp/flat side where the psaltery may start where you don't have the entire two and three pattern.


I think any series of markings are fine, as long as the player understands it.  This could cause some confusion for someone buying a used psaltery with a marking system that is different from what they are used too. 


Any thoughts?

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my first (and, so far, only) BP is a MasterWorks, and it had no markings when I got it.  While learning to play, I realized I needed some landmarks, so I put little dots on the C and F (I don't recall why I picked F, there must have been a few in the first pieces I was learning, or that seemed reasonable to someone who knew nothing).  If I got a new instrument now that was marked at C and G (for example), I suspect that it would cause me some trouble.


just my $0.02

Only marking two notes like the C & G or C & F would not work for me. I'm not a career musician, I play for enjoyment. My BP has strips on both sides that tell me each note . Without those, playing would require way too much thinking and greatly reduce my enjoyment. That probably sounds silly to anyone with a musical background. But for someone like me who has been musically challenged her entire life, finding an instrument that I can simplify to play has allowed me to enjoy playing music. So if I were to buy a custom BP, I'd probably ask for a unique marker at each note. As someone else said, I think the marking preference comes down to how familiar you are with music.

As Glen said above, you need some landmarks to find your way around, this will help in both accuracy and speed.  I supply the strips with some of my psalteries that mark each note with the note name and also a number.  Using play by number tunes can enable most anyone to play a song right away.  These strips are there if the person wants to use them, but I feel like there should also be some permanent markings on the psaltery.  This will let everyone have whatever method they choose to use available to them.  I have never read music to play the psaltery, but I understand the scales in the different keys.  Just learning that little bit of that knowledge will help greatly in playing the psaltery.  I use the simple method of starting on the first note of the key and then finding the next seven notes to sound out the do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do.  For many years any song I would hear and try to learn, I would sound it out so that I could play it in the key of C.  After a while I could sound out tunes quickly, even if I had never played them.  I didn't worry that I couldn't read music, I would sound out the tunes as I was thinking the melody in my head.  Of course, I had to hear the tune enough to have it in my head, but we all do that with songs we can sing, whistle, or hum.  


My opinion is that everyone should use whatever method they can easily understand, to learn where the notes are on your psaltery, and be able to identify them quickly.  So whatever that method happens to be, use it.  Then if you feel the need to expand on that knowledge it will be up to you to follow through.  Just don't ever forget that this is all about enjoyment and the pleasure music can bring to our lives :-)

I think this is an area where I would be slow to develop a preference, and then it would just be what I first learned.  At this stage in my playing, I have an appreciation for making the notes!

My first psaltery was marked at C and F and I find that's just what I'm comfortable with now, so when I get a new psaltery, I usually have to add additional note markers. I suppose with time I would adjust to the new markings, but I'm just not willing to go through the aggravation.

I also had to add brighter note markers to my original psaltery for when I played at the symphony. The lights were fairly low and I couldn't easily see the markers.

I don't even realize how my auto pilot brain needs those markers when I play! 

On the first psaltery I built, I installed permanent markers on the "C" and "G" but I wasn't happy with the outcome since I wasn't really shure if it was the "accepted" method of construction especially knowing there isn't consistency in the method used.

Thinking outside the box, I came up with an alternative method which allows anyone to change the location of the markers in just a couple of minutes.  Check out the photos I've attached and you'll see an example of a black and white indicator.  Each of the markers are split on one side and sized to fit firmly on the pin.  The markers can be installed or removed by aligning the slit with the string and is then pushed down over the pin.  I've had no problems with the markers causing unwanted rattles or vibrations on the instruments because of the close fit on the pin.

I'm currently looking for additional material to make more of these devices.  I found one manufacturer of ball point pens that worked great but I don't think they are still being made.  I also tried some plastic tubing but it wasn't stiff enough to grip the pins properly.  If there is enough interest in this idea, I'll make them available after I obtain the right materials.



Great idea! Keep us updated..


This message is a follow-up to my previous discussion on note position markers.  I have located a source of raw material to start making more of the note markers like the ones in the pictures shown in the 1/7/12 message.

At the present time, I could make up about 170 of these markers with the stock I have on hand.  In order to evaluate the potential demand for these removable markers , I am willing to send out five sets FREE to the first five customers. 

 Each set will include three Black and three Red hitch pin markers.  These markers are made of hard plastic and can be slipped over the top of the hitch pins without any removal or modification of the pins or strings. The internal diameter of the markers is matched to the standard hitch pin sizes and use a friction fit to stay in place.  It is highly unlikely that they have a significant impact on the tonal quality of the instrument and from my experience can actually help the bow hairs slide across the pins if placed near the top of the pins.  I think the greatest value of the markers is the ability to move them wherever you want.

If you or your fellow members are interested in trying these out, reply with an email and an address where I can send the samples.


Charlie Marshall

Loonsong Psalteries



I'd like to try a set of your markers, if they are still available

I'll contact you off-line:



I did receive a set of the markers from Charlie.  He sent three red and three black.  I have applied two black and two red to the right side of my BP.  I've never had a need for any markers on the accidentals side.  I took a couple pictures, but I'm having trouble getting them off my phone at the moment.

immediate reaction is: they were not too difficult to put on.  Not something I'd want to do every day, but certainly possible to move (or remove) if, for example, someone bought this instrument and wanted them on different posts, or not at all.  The video was useful, but I had to explicitly open the split with a fingernail to get it over the string.  also, I rotated them so as to 'hide' the split (it was visible, believe it or not) and rotating them was fairly difficult.  The split is now on one corner of the square post, and seems fine.  They don't seem to interfere with the playing at all (not that I thought that they would, but one never knows, esp since I have ball-end strings and all the pictures showed loop end strings).


on the downside: it might take some getting used to, since I'm "used to" finding a mark in between the posts that I have to bow in between, and now the landmark is on only one side (I spent some time thinking about whether they should be on the 'C' and 'F' posts or on the 'D' and 'G' posts to locate the C and F beyond them.  I'm staying with the former for now.

Also, I find the black hard to see.  The red is fine, but I'm thinking that white might be more visible as the alternate color. 

Not to mention, I had to find a way to scrape off the white-out dots that I had had applied.

Definitely superior to making marks on the instrument.


When I was first learning to play I had two inserts that showed all the note letters for all positions on my psaltery.  I used them to get started but realized I wanted to not use them as soon as possible.  I took a stencil sheet and attached letters C, F, A, C, and E on my psaltery.  I'm not sure why I settled on this arrangement but I know I rely on the A when I am playing Ashokan Farewell.  I think I have been playing long enough now (since early 1990's) that I could get along with just a C/G or C/F marking or no markings at all.  Finding the A for Ashokan Farewell on that one part of the song will be a new adventure on a psaltery with different or no markings.


My first psaltery was marked on C and F.  I can't seem to adjust to any other markings now.

I make changes to the markings on any psaltery that is marked differently. On my Rick Long psalteries I leave the C and G but I put my own marking on the F....if I don't, I get confused and I am confused enough as it is : ) I never even look at the accidental side of the psaltery for markers.

With time I know I would adjust but going back and forth between psalteries often, I'd rather make my life easier.


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