Monday, November 28, 2011

COLLECTION #107: Unusual Stringed Musical Instruments

What? You've never seen any of these instruments before? What the heck are they?  I play several of them, and a few of them are 'just for fun'... instruments I've collected through the years to hang on the walls or sit on the shelves. But they all can be played, even if not by me!  What makes this collection unique, is that most of these instruments might not be recognizable to you unless you are a traditional music person.

I'll give you the scoop on what they are and how they are played. Let's start with the instrument lying down in the above photo. It's called a biwa, and is a Japanese lute. There are many types of biwa, mine has 4 strings and 7 frets (two are missing).  You can watch someone play it here.
Next is the Ukelin. This is on the far left of the instruments in the upper photo. I've heard it said that there are more ukelins in antique stores across the US than any instrument. This may be a bit tongue in cheek, but the point is that the ukelin was sold in mass numbers by mostly door-to-door salesman in the early part of the 20th century, but they never really caught on. The reason was probably because they were difficult to play!  My friend Nancy gave me the ukelin back when I was in college. I've still never tried to play it! The ukelin is supposed to be a combination of a violin and a ukulele. Ha ha. Trust me, although it is played with a bow,  it's probably more like a combination of a bowed psaltery and a zither. But I guess 'Zithery' just didn't cut it.  I found an instruction book for playing my trusty ukelin in an antique store this weekend, so I thought I'd add it to my collection. You can also hear it played on YouTube here. (After watching quite a few videos of it being played, I think it would be fun to give it a try. I'll let you know if I master it!)
Next to the Ukelin is a mountain dulcimer, which is sometimes called a lap dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer, or fretted dulcimer. You've probably heard it played, or seen one but not known what it was. I used to have a lovely dulcimer years ago that simply vanished off the face of the earth. I learned to play it fairly well, but never replaced it. Someone gave me this dulcimer a couple of years ago. It's not a very good instrument, and I've never tuned it up to play. This one has only 3 strings.  Here's someone playing a lovely tune on YouTubeHere's another style of playing.  This one is also nice.

Next in line is the bowed psaltery. This instrument was purchased new about 10 years ago by my husband Bruce. He never really did learn to play it, and I've played around with it quite a bit. But today it sits in its nice padded case in our closet. It's a lovely instrument, and I probably should get it out more often to play it. It comes with two bows, and can be played with one or two. It is lovely at Christmas time! You can see and hear it played here.

The funny little one-stringed instrument on the far right is called a Diddley-bow! Mine looks to be home made (actually, I think most of them were hand made, many made out of bottles or old cigar boxes!) It's a blues instrument and can be played with a slide. Now that I have seen this video, perhaps I'll start playing it! Awesome and fun!

The last one isn't shown in the photos above, 'cause it was too big. I shot it separately. It's my hammered dulcimer. This is the one instrument in the bunch that I seriously play. I've been playing for about 20 years, and I especially love playing at Christmas time, because it's perfect for the old English & Celtic carols that we all know and love. I don't have a video of myself playing (I'll have to remedy that!) so I'll link you to someone else playing, who is much better than I!  The hammered dulcimer isn't related to the mountain dulcimer, except for the name. Although they both have strings, the hammered dulcimer is actually closely related to the piano! They are both played with hammers hitting the strings. After playing the guitar, autoharp and banjo for many years, learning the hammered dulcimer was a challenge, because striking the strings with little wooden hammers, and alternating hands was a completely new experience for me.

I hope you enjoyed my little unusual musical instrument collection!  Here are a few more photos just for fun!


Dan said...

I remember reading that Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer in the 1960s, had to be on the defensive when people first said his analog synthesizers were not "real instruments", as these short-sighted people believed that for an instrument to be considered "real" it had to be made of wood and metal by a craftsman (like pianos, violins, etc.). His answer was that each of his synthesizers WAS painstakingly hand made and was every bit a "real instrument". Today, we realize that Bob Moog's instruments, though made from electronic circuits rather than wood and strings, started a revolution in new sounds that changed the music industry. Even with the amazing sounds that digital synthesizers produce today, analog synthesizers still hold a niche among many musicians, and are used in popular recordings.

Anonymous said...

"... mostly aimless & pointless collections" ...are the treasure of further mankind..☺☺☺ thank you so much for sharing!