What is a Zither?

The zither is both a stringed instrument family and a specific stringed instrument. Instruments with stretched strings, also known as simple chordophones in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, make up the family that bears the name. If a resonator is present in a simple zither, it must be detachable without affecting the instrument’s ability to produce sounds. This distinguishes them from composite chordophones, which have a resonator built-in as well as a yoke, neck, or other string-holding element.

Bar zithers, tube zithers, raft zithers, box zithers, board zithers, trough zithers, and frame zithers are subsets of this family. The majority of the sounds are made when the strings are plucked, but some are made when they are bowed or struck. The piano, like the harpsichord and clavichord, is a box zither among keyboard instruments. Dulcimers are box zithers with multiple strings and no keyboard, and are used both as a class and as a member of the class. Autoharps are box zithers with damper bars that allow the player to select chords pressing buttons on the instrument.

The zither is a musical instrument that comes in two varieties. The fretless zither, which comes in a variety of styles, is one of them. The concert zither, on the other hand, has five melody strings stretched over a fretted fingerboard and unfretted harmony strings that are not fretted, as well as the ability to play chord groups. Carl Ignaz Umlauf is credited with the invention of the Viennese family of zithers, which originated in the Alps.

In several ways, zither music has expanded beyond Bavarian folk songs. Many people are surprised to learn that this instrument has a solo in Johann Strauss’ “Tale from the Vienna Woods.” The theme music for the film adaptation of The Third Man, based on a Graham Greene novel, includes a zither. Anton Karas, a Viennese composer and zither player, composed and performed the score.

Hans Lanner, Rudy Knabl, Cornelia Mayer, and Alfons Bauer are among the other notable players. This instrument’s repertoire has grown beyond its origins, and now includes jazz and pop, as well as folk and classical music. The autoharp, too, has grown in popularity, finding its way into genres as diverse as flamenco, jazz, and Caribbean music.

Mayer Music in Vienna is offering a unique zither experience. If you want to learn how to play the zither and its repertoire without purchasing one, you can enroll in a series of two lessons that will not only introduce you to the instrument, but also to the culture of Viennese folk songs. Artists from all over the world perform on the instrument in venues across the United States, often in conjunction with a college or university.