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Standards... by whose Standards?



Questions continue to come up about and I hear references to a bowed psaltery being soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and even bass. This always makes me wonder “What do they mean by that.”



When I hear tenor, I think of a note range that starts lower than what I’m used to as well as a larger instrument; but that’s also what I think when I hear alto, baritone and bass. It’s very confusing, particular for a person new to the instrument.


Hoping to find a musical standard, I researched musical ranges for the violin family, guitar, ukulele, mountain dulcimer, hammer dulcimer and piano. None are the same and none provide a good basis for comparison.


Voice was the only thing left. Even these standards vary slightly from source to source but they are somewhat consistent.


I copied the ranges that follow from the online Yale University Library – The Irving S. Gilmore Music Library that cited Grove Music Online. Listed are 6 categories for solo vocal ranges, this excludes choral and opera.


Soprano C4-A5

Mezzo-Soprano A3-F5

Alto – G3 to E5 (contralto F3 – D5)

Tenor – roughly C3 to A4

Baritone – A2 – F4

Bass F2 to E4


Note: there are more categories out there, i.e., countertenor G3 to D5, but I’m sticking with one source. My head is threatening to explode.


Standards are developed over time, can change over time and are generally defined by some group or governing body but folks in today’s world are used to having them. The bowed psaltery is a very young instrument and standards don’t exist for it. I don’t know if they ever will.


It’s possible I’m the only one who cares about this issue. The bowed psaltery world will get along fine without clear categorization but it would be helpful for communication purposes and of course, standardization. 🥴


Anyone (builders, now is your chance to be heard) want to share what you think? There are no right or wrong answers.

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Rick Long
Rick Long
Mar 10, 2023

Here's a video I did on trying to decipher the note layout and range of a few sizes of psalteries as they pertain to the piano keyboard.


https://youtu.be/rPH0KYLuu8U


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Donna Malus
Donna Malus
Mar 11, 2023
Replying to

I have that video under "Psaltery University" It is excellent Rick!!!!! Your explanation is so clear. DA Tuner is my favorite tuning app.

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Donna Malus
Donna Malus
Mar 10, 2023

That's basically it. C4 is the fourth C from the left side of the piano. That first C is the third white key from the left. Gretchen. I think I will do a little post about the octaves. Many, many players don't know what that is.

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Rick Long
Rick Long
Mar 10, 2023

There may never be a "standard" size and note range for the bowed psaltery as pertaining to belonging in a category. A 2 1/2 octave psaltery with wound, plain steel, or a combination of both can easily range into two of those categories. Then what do we have?


In the past for me, the terms soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass-baritone were just a quick way to identify the models that I made and give them a name. I always included the note range, type of strings, and number of strings in the descriptions.


An example is - This tenor bowed psaltery has 2 1/2 octaves, 30 phosphor bronze wound strings with a note range of G3 to C6 in…


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Donna Malus
Donna Malus
Mar 10, 2023
Replying to

Hey Rick,

I totally agree, there just isn't a big enough community to get to the point of standards and the lack of standards provides a level of freedom which can be good and bad. I was picturing all the builders I know in a room, LOL, there would be more laughing and story telling than anything, ending with music playing!


I had been revisiting this issue when I was contacted by someone new to the psaltery but looking to buy. Basically she knew what she wanted but didn't know how to translate that or what that meant in the psaltery world. Folks just don't know what they don't know.


The psaltery isn't alone, looking at the mountain dulcimer I…


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Gretchen L
Gretchen L
Mar 09, 2023

So for the music dummy, C4 refers to the fourth C up from the left on a piano? Not a piano player, and still slow/poor at reading music,

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Debra
Debra
Mar 28, 2023
Replying to

Gretchen, would it help to know that it's 261.63 hertz, which is a measure of its wavelength? You can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKi78RF7vck.

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