Plucked instrument

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A zither in a suitcase
Three types of harps

Plucked instruments are stringed instruments (chordophones) in which the strings are usually made to vibrate by plucking or striking them with the fingertips or a pick . There are plucked instruments whose pitch is produced by shortening the strings with the finger, with or without a fingerboard, and others that must have at least one string for each sound that can be produced, which is not shortened with the finger. The plucked instruments are counted after the first group mainly to the lute instruments , after the second to the zithers , harps and lyres . Typical plucked instruments are guitar, mandolin, banjo, balalaika, zither and harp.


The first plucked instruments were staff zithers , in which a string is attached to two ends of a wooden bow. If the rod is bent by the string tension, this results in a mouth bow or musical bow . The string consisted of plant fibers, hair, silk, animal tendons and animal intestines. The earliest finds of musical bows come from the Paleolithic. Cave paintings also date from this period, depicting the use of shooting bows as musical bows. Plucked instruments are already part of the original possession of musical instruments. In the case of earth zithers , one or more strings are stretched over a pit, the cavity of which serves to reinforce the resonance.

Multi-string instruments such as the lyre and harp as well as instruments in which the strings are stretched over a flat or curved resonance body, such as the zither , the lute or the Chinese qin, developed from the musical bow .

Like the other instruments, plucked instruments initially served magical and cultic purposes. Instruments were often symbolically decorated, such as the Sumerian lyre, whose sound body was modeled on a bull. It was only late at the end of antiquity that musical instruments were used for aesthetic expression. From this time on, plucked instruments were often used to accompany songs .

Plucked instruments were known in the various ancient civilizations. From this, various plucked instruments developed worldwide. In addition to the zither and the lute, well-known instruments are, for example, the guitar , the mandolin , the balalaika , the domra , the concert harp , the spinet or the banjo common in Africa and America , the ukulele common in the South Seas and the Chinese vaulted board zither Guzheng .


In Mesopotamia one already knew in the 4th millennium BC The lyre, which is considered the Sumerian national instrument. First of all, the Sumerian lyre is a standing instrument. In the Babylonian period the smaller handier developed from this, of which the earliest illustration from around 1800 BC. BC. Further instruments of the Mesopotamian high culture are the harp, here in particular the Sumerian bow harp and the Assyrian angle harp . From the 2nd millennium BC In Mesopotamia, the lute is also known, which consists of a fur-covered sound box made of a small half pumpkin and a long fingerboard over which two to three strings are stretched.


In ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC The harp was known. It is a large bow harp in which the six to eight strings were stretched between the ends of an arched resonance body, similar to the musical bow. In the new Egyptian empire in the 2nd millennium BC In addition to the large standing harps, shoulder harps, which the harpist placed on the shoulder to play, as well as hand harps and others, were added to the range. Harps were used to accompany songs, but also in instrumental groups with several harps or together with flutes . During this time, the lyre and the lute also came to Egypt through cultural exchange .


In Palestine, plucked instruments were known to both the Phoenicians and the Hebrews . The Phoenicians coined the instrumental combination of a wind instrument , a string instrument like the lyre, and a percussion instrument . The asor , a zither-like instrument, is also of Phoenician origin . We know about Hebrew music primarily from written documents such as the Bible . For example, Jubal is referred to in the Bible (Genesis 4:21 ) as the first musician to whom the kinnor , a five- to nine-string hurdy-gurdy, goes back. The kinnor was often used as an accompanying instrument for singing in the temple during the royal era in Palestine.


From the Vedic period , bow harps called vina are known, which were used to accompany vocal Vedic cult music.


The early Indian bow harp is the only Asian country in Myanmar that has been preserved as a Saung gauk .


In China, during the Shang Dynasty in the second half of the second millennium BC, Zithers known. In the Zhou Dynasty in the first millennium BC The Chinese instruments were systematically classified according to material. The k'in with strings made of silk , a vaulted board zither, is divided into the category of silk and is symbolic of summer and the south. There was probably already at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC First K'in instruments. The pipa , a lute-like instrument, has also been played in China since the beginning of the era .


Plucked instruments were widespread in Greece . The oldest Greek plucked instrument is the phorminx , a lyre with a semicircular sound body and first four or five and from the 7th century BC. With seven strings. From the Phorminx the kithara developed , which is carried with a shoulder strap and plucked with the hand or a plectrum. The lyre has a sound box made from a turtle shell to which goat horns are attached. The seven strings are stretched over the sound box and between the horns. Lyra and Kithara belong to the Apollo cult . The barbiton from the Dionysus cult is similar to the lyre, but is slimmer and longer. It is mainly used to accompany singing. The harp and the pandura , a narrow lute, were used in Greece from the 5th century BC. Known.

Roman Empire

In the Roman Empire , music played a rather subordinate role on plucked instruments. As in Greece, the lyre, the kithara, the lute and the harp are known as accompanying instruments for solo singing. The kithara, however, was common among virtuosos as well as amateurs. A well-known kitharist was Emperor Nero .

middle Ages

In the late Middle Ages , song accompaniment using plucked instruments gained in importance throughout Europe, for example among French trobadors and minstrels . Known musical instruments in the Middle Ages are the harp, the lyre and the psaltery as a preform of the zither related to the dulcimer .

Plucked music today

Plucked orchestra from 1920

Plucked instruments are often used to accompany songs. How to use songwriter often to the accompaniment of their songs a guitar. The guitar also plays a major role in popular music and jazz , here in addition to the acoustic guitar, in particular the electric guitar and the electric bass guitar . In addition, today there are various types of orchestra such as the plucked orchestra in Europe and Australia, the balaleica orchestra in Eastern Europe or the bluegrass orchestra in North America. Plucked instruments are also used in symphony orchestras and operas , in addition to the concert harp and harpsichord, occasionally the mandolin and concert guitar . The flamenco music, in which the acoustic guitar is a supporting instrument, should also be mentioned.

Plucked music in Germany

In Germany, plucked music is organized in the Bund deutscher Zupfmusiker (BDZ). National and international competitions for different line-ups from orchestras to solo presentations take place regularly. Plucked musical instrumentalists also take part in competitions such as Jugend musiziert or youth competitions for plucked groups. Lessons to learn a plucked instrument are offered in music schools, clubs and by freelance and private teachers. Plucked instruments, especially acoustic guitars, are among the most learned instruments in German music schools. Every four years the professional association for guitar and mandolin music in Germany organizes the Zupfmusikfestival Eurofestival Zupfmusik .

Web links

Commons : Plucked Instruments  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Plucked instrument  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Association of German plucked musicians for guitar and mandolin music in Germany
  2. facten/die-beliebenesten-instrument/ index.html
  3. Eurofestival Zupfmusik