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Q&A

(How) does bow shape affect playing the bowed psaltery?

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Years ago I acquired a bowed psaltery, with a bow shaped something like this:

curved bow

Every psaltery bow I've seen "in person" has this arched shape. Bows for other instruments (like violins) have a flatter shape, like this:

flat, not curved, bow

I need to replace my bow, and I'm seeing both shapes in search results, though more the former. I don't know if this is just bow manufacturers trying to broaden their sales a little, or if there's actually a reason to prefer a flat bow over a curved one.

When playing a bowed psaltery you move (disjointly) from string to string, unlike on a violin where you can slide across to the next string. (This is what I've seen, anyway; I don't play violin.) On a psaltery you're playing on a bit of string, between its peg and the next one up, so there's not a lot of room. You (or at least I) play strokes in both directions, depending on context. There are no frets and thus no fingering control (like for vibrato).

For the bowed psaltery, what are the practical differences between these two bow shapes, assuming comparable length?

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3 comments

Side remark: On every bowed instrument (such as the violin), when moving from a string to a string, or when changing direction, it is standard technique to briefly stop the bow on the (new) string and only then start bowing again. If a beginner ignores this, they are rewarded with a harsh or scratchy sound as the string and the bow are trying to phase-lock with each other. With practice, this discontinuity can gradually become zero duration (yet present) and completely unnoticeable. Jirka Hanika‭ 4 months ago

Thanks @JirkaHanika! Having never played a bowed instrument where continuous motion was possible, I had no idea. It sure looks like it's continuous, but that must be the effect of skill -- as you said, approaching zero duration. TIL. Monica Cellio‭ 4 months ago

Bows for mainstream stringed instruments (violin etc.) are concave to provide a longer, somewhat stiffer hair surface that makes it easier to play long, sustained notes. Convex bows were used through the baroque period but when louder and more fluid styles of music gained in popularity they gave way to what we see today. I know nothing whatsoever about bowed psalteries but I suspect you might find similar forces at work there. Sigma‭ 4 months ago

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