The zither is a stringed instrument and belongs to the family of stringed instruments ( chordophones ). In its origins, a folk music instrument of the Alpine countries, held in the late 19th century arrived in the salons of the European bourgeoisie. After the Wars, the construction of the zither was further developed, to the modern concert instrument in pageants and in contemporary music.

In the instrument known union importance zither commonly referred to a stringed instrument with a string carrier, which acts either at the same time as a resonance chamber or on which a separate, removable sound box is attached.

  • 2.1 Form and style of play
  • 2.2 stringing the Concert Zither
  • 2.3 The zither family
  • 3.1 Scherr Zither
  • 3.2 Akkordzither
  • 3.3 overtone e- zither



The Hebrews Jubal, whose Alturgroßvater was Cain, the Bible referred to as the granddaddy of all harp and organ player (Gen 4.21 EU). The term zither goes back to the Greek word kithara. In German, it occurs in the 17th century in the forms Cythera and jitter, but this marked the first of loud like cittern (or Cyster ).

On the question of the origin of the instrument, opinions are divided. What is certain is that even the ancient Greeks, a predecessor of the zither, monochord knew. From Europe, the medieval Scheitholt and the Psalter are considered as precursors of the zither. Similarly, many forms of this instrument can be found throughout Asia, for example in China, the Qin and Guzheng, Koto in Japan or in the Tranh Vietnam. The Kannel or kantele in Scandinavia and the Baltic States are also regional characteristics of the zither.

Zither as a systematic technical term of the instrument customer

" Zither" is in the Hornbostel -Sachs system is a generic term for simple chordophones either composed solely of the strings stretched over support with strings or have an additional resonance body that is independent of the sounder in construction. In terms of popular scientific instrument system is meant by Zither a group of instruments, plucked instruments with strings whose body consists of a flat box ( in some non-European forms only from a board ) and with a number of strings that run parallel to the surface of the box, are covered, this includes eg the Psalter. Other subgroups of these instruments both form the Wölbbrettzither and the dulcimer.

The Alpine zither

One of the earliest descriptions of a zither instrument in the Alps comes from the Swiss Thomas Platter (* 1499 in Wallis ). He reported that he had in his youth strings pulled on a shingle, made ​​a bridge among them and plucked the strings with the fingers. In " Syntagma Musicum " ( 1619) by Michael Praetorius is an instrument of this kind, the term " log or pieces of wood " mentioned. A dated 1675 instrument from Brixen has the shape of a long rectangle, two games and two accompanying strings and a fingerboard with 14 frets. Only at the end of the 18th century create vivid efforts to modernize the instrument type a, with a focus in the Salzburg area and in the middle of the forest.

Critical to the success story of the instrument in the 19th century was Johann Petzmayer. Born 1803 in Zistersdorf, he grew up in Vienna as the son of an innkeeper and first learned to play on the violin, with 16 years then on the zither. His Zither included three melody and chord strings 15 and was the preferred instrument to its extensive concert tours. On his second " tour of Germany " 1836/37, the Bavarian Duke Max heard him in Bavaria, the Petzmayer then hired as a private teacher and him in 1838 the title of " Chamber Virtuoso " lent. That same year Nicholas Weigel ( from Giesing Munich) its theoretical and Practical Zitherschule. 1838 accompanied Petzmayer Duke Max on a journey to the East via Italy and Greece, to visit King Otto. In Egypt, he played at the foot of the pyramids and composed on a cruise to Aswan the waltz " Nile Cruise ". The attention to folkloric during the Biedermeier period led to a flowering of the zither in Central Europe, with development towards a bourgeois salon instrument ( " The Piano of the little man "). Finally instruments were produced in large quantities and exported worldwide, while in the whole of Germany " zither clubs " established, some of which still exist today in the late 19th century.

Technically, the instrument was made in 1851 by former Diskantzither Georg Tiefenbrunner a so-called Alt- or " elegy " Zither to the side, an instrument with an extended scale length and changes in mood (1 fourth below ). The first concert zither today's design with extended bore was built in 1862 by Max Amberger in Munich. In the 1930s created Adolf Meinel sen. Mark Neukirchen in a fifth zither (1 fifth higher ) and a Baßzither (1 octave lower ).

The last major innovations of the zither construction took place in the 20th century, mainly through the development of a zither " in Psalterform " by Ernst Volkmann ( Ingolstadt ). Volkmann had incorporated his knowledge of violin making. Through the use of a stretched ceiling for the body, and partly by the enormous extension of the duels he gave his instruments a strong, asserts itself sound, which is mainly for the interpretation of baroque and contemporary music transcriptions of advantage. Ernst Volkmann responded with its changes carried out on the development of the technique, the literature and to the changing needs of professional players. Many instrument makers attacked on its design and developed them on their way on.

Concert Zither

Form and style of play

The basic form of the concert zither consists of a flat box on the fingerboard strings 5 and 27 to 37 Free strings are parallel to the long side tensioned. Among the free strings is a sound hole. Among the fretboard or melody strings is the fretboard, which is divided with chromatic frets. In addition to the most frequently played Diskantzither includes the bottom, alto and bass zither to the group of concert harps. The latter are transposing instruments.

One of the most common forms, the historical Zither "Salzburg shape " that has a recess at the side facing away from the player of the instrument. Another design variant is the zither in " Mittenwalder form" that is based on the symmetry of the guitar or lyre: it has two bulges. A modern zither form is the " Psalterzither ", which was developed in 1970 by instrument maker Ernst Volkmann (* 1921). This innovative design is a common template for many of today's concert instruments.

The Concert Zither has two play areas: The fretboard or melody strings and the open strings ( colloquially " chord strings "). The fingerboard plucked strings with a zither ring ( plectrum ) on the thumb of the right hand, while they are gripped by the fingers of the left hand. The open strings are plucked with the fingers of the right hand.

Stringing the Concert Zither

For the concert zither, there is still two widely used sets of strings, which are both in the mood of the fingerboard strings, and in the mood of the free strings (formerly " companion " - or " chord strings ", " Bass" - and " double strings " ) are different:

  • The Standardbesaitung (originally: standard tuning, formerly known colloquially: Munich tuning ) is the more common and evolutionarily younger.

The fingerboard strings are tuned to a, a, d, g, and c. The open strings ( originally accompanying and bass strings ) are arranged in fourths fifths sequence for a system of Nicholas Weigel ( 1811-1878 ) and cover the tonal range of f ' to double F ( double or G) Contiguous ( vollchromatisch ) from. The double strings are tuned chromatically downward from F. The entire open string field is listed in the bass clef. The arrangement in the circle of fifths has the advantage that the basic chords of a key close to each other and are to grasp them easily and quickly as a single sound or series of cadences. Fourths and fifths within a chord are plucked with one finger of the right hand almost as fast arpeggio. The arrangement of the fingerboard strings based on the fifths tuning of stringed instruments, while the additional a-string allows comfortable gripping of chords in a high position.

The Standardbesaitung was introduced in 1878 at the Congress of the " Association of German zither clubs " as " normal mood ". In order to pursue their protagonists also the objective on the Zither the game of " classic " literature easier. Dissemination was the " normal mood " by renowned composer and zither players like John Pugh, Joseph Haustein (1849-1926), Richard Grünwald (1877-1963) and many others.

  • The rarer Viennese strings (originally Viennese tuning )

The fingerboard strings are tuned to a ', d ', g ', g, and c. A feature of the Vienna strings is the " auxiliary string ' g' in the middle of the fingerboard strings. The free area of the Vienna strings stringing differs from that of the Standardbesaitung in the main by the fact that six strings in the bass range (f, d, e, f sharp or it and cis) an octave are tuned down. This divides the free string field in two tonal ranges ( as' to gis and c to C ) and leaves a gap of g to cis. The counterpoint strings start with the C and are voted down chromatically. The entire open string field is listed in the bass clef.

The " Viennese tuning " was written by Carl JF circulation (1824-1902) in his "recent complete theoretical and practical Viennese zither school" (Vienna 1859 at Glöggl ) held and propagated. He writes about the Griffbrettbesaitung, as it was later used in the " standard tuning ": "There is also zithers, where the fingerboard mood is a'- a'- d'- g -c; these mood but I reject entirely the reason, because more effect can not be achieved so as with 4 strings, and then usually on the second a ' is played, which never has the beautiful and powerful tone as the place of the first a'. "

The zither family

The sizes are ( "normal" mood ), Alt ( a fourth below ) and bass zither ( an octave lower ) distinguished in the treble, in each case the entire Tonvorrat is transposed. Furthermore, even the rarer Quint zither exists ( a fifth higher sounding ). The various moods are often played together in the ensemble, each instrument is as such also solo use. Besides the Diskantzither the instruments are listed transposing: Zither in g (low), bass zither octaves in C, Quint zither in g (high).

Special forms

Scherr Zither

The Scherr zither, zither also scratch or beat zither, is a rural zither diatonic arranged frets, which is still used in the alpine folk music today. In particular, the game with the Scherr zither im Allgäu, maintained in the neighboring Vorarlberg and Tyrol space, as well as in Upper Bavaria.


In contrast to the construction and operation of the concert zither, the guitar or chord zithers. Designed as a layman instruments and industrially produced, they have no fretboard, but only free-swinging, or arranged in groups chord strings. A special sheet music ( tablature ) is placed under them so that the instrument can be played without read music.

Overtone e- zither

The Mood Swinger is an electrically amplified flat board zither. The Mood Swinger beside an additional third, movable bridge. The third bridge divides the strings into two parts with different pitches. Depending on where the string is plucked, in addition hear a Flageolettton.