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Monochord with two strings (physics department of the Deutsches Museum in Munich )

A monochord ( Greek μόνος monos 'single', χορδή chorde , “string”) or canon ( Latin canon for “measure”) is a musical instrument-like tool that consists of an elongated resonance box over which a string is stretched lengthways. This can be divided with the help of a bridge that is movably attached under it. The division ratio can be read on a scale on the ceiling of the resonance box. In harmony with an identical, undivided string, simple division ratios result in consonances and complicated division ratios result in dissonances .

The term monochord is also used to describe instruments with several strings, the strings of which are stretched parallel over a rectangular resonance body and tuned to the same tone. The strings can be divided by movable bridges, so that different tones can be played on the same instrument.

Physical principle

Monochord with a string ( orange colored ) of the maximum swinging length l between the two bridges at "1: 1" and "0" (black) on a resonance box . The force F tensions the string.

The adjacent drawing explains the physical principle of the monochord. To clarify the geometric relationships, the string length is provided with a twelve-part scale. If the string is shortened further and further from left to right with a third bridge, the result is increasingly higher notes if the string is struck or plucked near the zero point on the right bridge. With a shortening of the string

on it sounds a
fourth higher ( dark ), on it sounds a fifth higher ( blue ) and on it sounds an octave higher ( green ) as the uncut string with the total length .


The Benedictine monk Guido von Arezzo (left), the Bishop Theobald von Arezzo (right) instructs on the monochord around 1025. Representation from the 12th century, Codex Lat. 51 f ° 35v., Vienna, Austrian National Library, music collection


In ancient times , the monochord was used to demonstrate music-theoretical and physical connections. After his legendary discovery in the forge, Pythagoras is said to have researched the division ratio of strings and developed his theory of consonance. The oldest document with a sound system representation on the monochord is the division of the canon of Euclid . The oldest metrological refinements to the canon come from Ptolemy . More details about the division ratios are found in Guido of Arezzo in his writings .

Boethius with a monochord marked with tone letters

middle Ages

The late ancient Roman scholar Boethius (around 480 - around 526) dealt with the pitch of the monochord in his textbook De institutione musica (“Introduction to Music”). Cassiodorus (around 485 - around 580) wanted to provide the monks of the Vivarium monastery with comprehensive information about music with his music theory Institutiones musicae . Since the 10th century there have been own treatises on the theoretical foundations of music, which were obtained using demonstration instruments.

An improved medieval version of the monochord was the key monochord, in which the string could be shortened by pressing a number of keys in different places. Conrad von Zabern (1410–1476 / 1481) also constructed such an instrument with the preliminary stage of a piano keyboard . The key monochord he used could be reconstructed from his Novellus musicae artis tractatus , which he completed in the 1460s . The clavichord , first documented in an illustration from 1440, emerged from the key monochord .

Usage today

In class

The monochord is used in physics lessons to illustrate acoustic phenomena, such as the relationship between pitch and string length ; the formation of overtones through harmonic division; as well as resonance and vibration . In music lessons , the principles learned on the monochord can be transferred to other instruments, for example for tuning the guitar .

As a musical instrument

Single string monochords

Player of the Đàn bầu

In some countries, one-string folk musical instruments can be found, which in principle correspond to the monochord, for example the Đàn bĐu in Vietnam, played melodiously using the flageolet technique . The Trumscheit with a bow is a historical single-stringed instrument from Europe .

The Diddley Bow used in blues music is also a kind of monochord, where one string is struck with a short stick and the pitch is changed with a bottleneck . In the 1950s, the American blues musician Willie Joe Duncan , called "One-String-Joe" and "One-String-Willie", played a monochord of more than body length, which he called "Unitar" and "Unitarre", respectively.

Multi-string monochords

Other modern designs of the monochord are often provided with many parallel strings that are tuned to the same tone and thus result in a very full sound with a rich overtone spectrum . These instruments are mostly still referred to as monochord, but sometimes also as polychord (Greek poly : several, chorda : strings). The principle of simultaneous stringing of many strings in the same tune has been known from drone zithers for centuries ; it produces the "bumblebee sound", called drone (from French bourdon : bumblebee ).

Double monochord "Klangwiege" from Allton

Large monochords / polychords can be found for meditation accompaniment , in music therapy , in the wellness sector and in alternative medicine for sound therapeutic applications ( phonophoresis ), as their sound is perceived as pleasant and calming. There are no limits to the shape of the resonance box. Sometimes they are built as "sound furniture", in the form of chairs , loungers, bowls or tubes, on or in which a person can lie or sit.

The multi-string monochord can be further expanded in terms of instrument technology. One possibility is the combination of several monochords that are tuned to different tones (e.g. root and fifth). The Icelandic Langspil is a two- to six-string drone zither , one string of which with a fretted fingerboard becomes a melody string. Another possibility for expansion is the use of movable bridges or the use of flageolet techniques to make higher notes playable. The newly developed Kotamo , whose body corresponds to a box zither that is strung with strings on both sides, combines three stringed instruments according to their name: the Japanese vaulted board zither Koto , the Indian long-necked lute Tanpura and the monochord.

Other single string instruments

There are a number of other musical instruments of other designs that only have one string. Often they, like the monochord, are named after this property in their respective language. These include the Indian single-string plucked lute ektara and the single-string plucked drum ektara (from Hindi ek târ , "one string"). In East Africa, zeze or sese denotes flat rod zithers with a melody string in several languages. The single-stringed spike violin, similar to the Ugandan endingidi, zeze kamba moja in Tanzania uses one string in its name ( swahili kamba , “string” and moja , “one”).

See also

Individual evidence

  1. The Latin term chorda means not only string, but also a part of a string or the sound that is produced by strings.
  2. Ellen Hickmann: Musica instrumentalis. Studies on the classification of musical instruments in the Middle Ages. (Collection of musicological treatises. Volume 55) Valentin Koerner, Baden-Baden 1971, pp. 12-14
  3. ^ Karl-Werner Gümpel: The key monochord Conrad von Zabern. In: Archives for Musicology. 12th year, issue 2. 1955, pp. 143–166
  4. Hickmann, p. 115
  5. Google translation of an article on the net
  6. ^ Walter Nef: The Polychord . In: The Galpin Society Journal 4, (June 1951), pp. 20-24 online .


  • Cecil Adkins: The Technique of the Monochord. In: Acta Musicologica, Vol. 39, Fasc. 1/2. January-June 1967, pp. 34-43
  • David Creese: The Monochord in Ancient Greek Harmonic Science. (Cambridge Classical Studies) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010, ISBN 978-0521843249

Web links

Commons : Monochord  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Monochord  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations