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Playing the Lyre or Psaltery

Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 10:44 am
by Ian Harbottle
Hi all, can anyone advise on some good books or references for someone wishing to learn to play the lyre or psaltery. I'm a complete novice but have the time on my hands and enthusiasm to give it a go. Is there a general or specific techniqueto playing? Would I need to (or would it be easier to) learn to play a harp first??

Any advice greatly appreciated.


Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 6:31 pm
by lidimy
but have the time on my hands and enthusiasm to give it a go.

and the money?

lol, sorry! i hope you get going with it :D

lidi :)

Posted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:55 pm
by Eric the well read
Hi Ian,
The psaltery and the lyre have completely different techniques
and it depends which period you want to cover

Lyre or Rotte anglo-saxon to Norman- In Britain
Psaltery 10th C onwards - again - In Britain

The psaltery is basically a harp backwards (the bass strings are nearest to your body. So, a possible answer is to get a small harp tutor and reverse it
searching the web is another possibility).
The are six ways to play the psaltery
flat on the lap with fingers, using two quills or plectra, small hammers,
Cuddling it -left hand does bass, right melody (This is the method seen in most medieval manuscripts), or right hand touches the strings you don't want to hear- left hand strums chords. This is the way the Greeks still do it after 4,000 years.
The lyre, depending which model you are learning, involves either touching the strings you don't want to hear (see above), using a bow or finger picking.
In 40 years of playing I've never seen a good tutor for playing either instrument.
But don't let that put you off.
Do you play any instruments all ready? This could give me an inkling of what would suit you


Posted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 5:30 pm
by Thor Ewing
To play the lyre, you start by sitting the instrument on your left knee and putting your left hand on the strings from the back of the instrument. On the five-string version you can use one finger for each string; if you have a six-string lyre, I'd recommend choosing one as a drone string and leaving it uncovered (you can start trying to cover more than one string with the same finger once you've got the basics).
Now lift off a finger leaving a string uncovered, and strum with your right hand. Move your fingers to change the sounding string, and you can begin to play a tune!
Hope you get on OK!
Best wishes,

Posted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 6:09 pm
by Type16
I did a web search the other day re psaltary and found an article that said there are sheets of original music that were inserted under the strings.

Sounds like a musical 'painting by numbers'! Problem is that I now cannot find the pages.

It suggested the the 5 line musical layout evolved from this practice. Opinions????

Posted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 6:21 pm
by Tamsin Lewis
I've seen these sheets in Russian equivalents - cimbalon I think. Don't know if they're historical though

Posted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 6:41 pm
by Type16
Yes, I see your point................'original' can be interpreted several ways.
But the article inferred genuine item.
I will keep looking.

Posted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 1:28 am
by Eric the well read
Tamsin Lewis wrote:I've seen these sheets in Russian equivalents - cimbalon I think. Don't know if they're historical though

Usually made in the Ukraine, these things are marked as 'cymbalom'
on the makers mark (Strange, as the cymbalom is always played with hammers -except in Spain). They are usually marketed for kids through
educational suppliers- and are pretty useless for any serious player.


Posted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 1:23 pm
by Hinny Annie
Why dont you contact Busy Mole, they should be able to give you the info you need, they post on here.


Posted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:09 pm
by Ian Harbottle
Thanks guys this has been a great help.

Ann, Ive just found a link for Busy Mole (feeling a bit like a kid in a sweet shop). Thanks I'll drop them a line too.

Eric, I mainly do Roman re-enactment and on occasion medieval. Idealy I'd like something with a technique that can be used between the two but I'm aware that I may need different instruments for each period. I've never played a string instrument as such but I have 15yrs experience of playing percussion. I'm wanting something that can be played solo for my own enjoyment at home as well as re-enactment, and doesn't require an estate car to cart around, hence moving away from percussion.

Thor, the lyres I've seen are 8 and 10 string, would you recommend starting with fewer as per the technique you described?

Thanks in advance

Posted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 11:02 am
by busy mole
Hi Ian, we have a couple of lyres and a kithara in stock now which would be very suitable for Roman re-enactment. Feel free to ring us for a chat - no obligation etc.