Remember that the bow is not an accessory like a guitar pick, it's the other half of the instrument. Bow technique is everything in developing good tone and musicianship. To get good at the psaltery, focus on the bow.
When bowing, bear in mind efficiency of motion. Always best to use the least amount of motion to sound the note. Try practicing using the least amount of bow stroke length to play any note. This would mean the short, quick notes (eighth and sixteenth notes) using a bow stroke of 1/2" or less. Any note you hold out longer, try using a slower bow stroke. Too fast and you can use up the length of the hair quickly. One thing to try with this is to see just how slowly you can bow a single note and still keep a good quality of tone. In playing most tunes you should vary the speed of your bow stroke. Most folks do that without thinking about it. That's great and it should be a goal. I notice beginners struggle with this.
So the more compact your motions, the smoother your playing will be, especially for those faster tunes. I know, fast and smooth don't really sound like they should go together, but this is important to consider.
From time to time you will break a hair on your bow. That's normal and expected. Never pull the broken hair away, as this might loosen other hairs, but always keep a sharp nail clipper or manicure scissors in your kit to cut the broken piece off neatly. When enough hairs are lost or worn, a bow can be restored to new condition. A bow can loose a remarkable number of hairs and still work fine.
Sometimes a string will break. It doesn't necessarily mean you're doing anything wrong. Strings just break. Replacing a string is easy, but takes practice to do correctly. There are some good video instructions on YouTube for this, and you can always ask an experienced member for guidance. There's really no such thing as a special psaltery string. Psaltery strings are either piano wire or guitar strings. Both are readily available and cheap as dirt, so don't worry. If a particular string keeps breaking, there might be a mechanical problem to address. Again, don't be afraid to ask. Most fixes are simple. Even the hard ones aren't that hard.
(I put these two together since they're related, i.e. the breaking of breakable things.)
To get a full sound from your instrument with the most efficient motion, bow at a right angle to the strings themselves. Many times players hold their bows perpendicular (at a right angle) to the side of the psaltery. This is natural given the sloping sides of the triangular body. But if you bow perpendicular to the edge of the psaltery, your bow is crossing the strings at an angle. Look carefully at the strings themselves, and keep your bow at a right angle to them, not the side of the instrument. Your bow will move more easily from string to string as well. When playing at an angle to the strings, there is a greater tendency for the hairs to get stuck on the pins.
Not a tip specifically for better playing, but an important tip for new psaltery buyers.
When you get your new psaltery, in a store or through the mail, make this important measurement. Tune it up to full concert pitch then place it on a firm, flat surface, like a Formica counter top or a polished table. You want a very flat surface. You will probably notice that there is a small bow to the back of your instrument. It looks a little like a rocking chair. That's OK. Press down on the back of the instrument (near the tuning pins) and note how high up the tip of the psaltery is above the table. If, at some time in the future, you notice the psaltery seems to be going flat all the time, re-check the amount of bow in the back. If it has increased it is a sign that the instrument is collapsing under tension. This is very important to know when you need to talk to the builder about the failure.
Also look at the soundboard to see how flat it is. If it starts to buckle under or raise up, that's another sign of failure.
Dona Benkert -
Illinois Lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
& Folk-Lore Center, Warrenville, IL
Phone: 630.393.1247 http://www.folk-lorecenter.com/
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.
1-304-575-0998 email@example.com www.westmaninstruments.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org http://upontheharp.com
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.