Guitar, Harp, Lute, Mandolin, Banjo
History of Instrument
The plucked strings include the harp, guitar, lute, mandolin and banjo. The strings are plucked to make sweet, delicate music that is softer than most other instruments.
The classical guitar was possibly played by Egyptians 5000 years ago. It was carried to Spain by the Romans, and became so popular it was Spains national instrument by the year 1500. There are concertos written for guitar and orchestra, and many of the best composers have come from Spain. It is made up of 6 strings, and no electricity. The guitar is the most commonly played instrument outside of the orchestra. One can be found in every school, every music shop, and in more homes than any other instrument. With bowed instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass) the fingerboard is smooth, so you must either learn from years of practice or guess to produce a certain note. The guitar, on the other hand, is quite different. It has frets, making playing notes foolproof. With bowed instruments, you play no more than one note at a time. With the guitar, you are usually playing more than one note. Thats what strumming is (you almost never strum a violin).
The harp is the most commonly plucked string instrument to be used in an orchestra. It supposedly began as an offshoot of a hunters bow over a thousand years ago, and has not changed much since. Plucking the strings in its triangular frame plays it. It stands 68" tall, and has seven pedals to alter the pitch. These pedals change the length of the strings, making sharps and flats (like the black piano keys). There are a grand total of 47 strings, which differ in length and thickness. Tuning these strings is quite a chore a harpist must report early (47 minutes!) to tune each one of these strings. Even after the strings are tuned, you have the slight problem of telling them apart. To help with this, the strings are colored-coded. All F strings are blue; C strings are red. The distances from C or F identify all other strings. A special effect of the harp is the glissando, a rippling sound created by sliding fingers hurriedly over the strings. This is plentifully used most in harp music.
The primary ancestor of the guitar, the lute was the primary instrument of the troubadours (remember Allan-a-Dale from "Robin Hood"?). It is shaped something like a half-pear, with a stalk representing a fingerboard. There is no bridge, and each string is duplicated. The head (where the pegs are) is bent back at an angle, giving it an odd appearance. It is used to create a Renaissance feeling in music.
Music for the mandolin goes back to the 16th century. It is used in folk music in the United States, Latin America and Japan. The mandolin is a plucked instrument armed with eight strings. It is tuned in pairs to the same four notes as a violin.
Called the "banjar", or banjo, was a guitar-type instrument brought by the slaves to America from Africa. It may be used in an orchestra for a sound like a classical hoe-down. It has become part of American folk music, and can have anywhere from four to nine strings. It looks like a pan with strings stretched over the fingerboard and to the pegs. Fortunately, it doesnt sound like that! Skin or parchment is stretched over the frame, and the back is often left open so the sound is twangy and not very resonant.
Music for the Plucked String Instruments
© Copyright 1999 ERCHA.