AskDefine | Define psaltery

Dictionary Definition

psaltery n : an ancient stringed instrument similar to the lyre or zither but having a trapezoidal sounding board under the strings

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From ψαλτήριον (psalterion) “stringed instrument, psaltery, harp” < ψάλλω (psallo) “to touch sharply, to pluck, to pull, to twitch” and in the case of the strings of musical instruments, “to play a stringed instrument with the fingers, and not with the plectron”


psaltery (plural psalteries)
  1. An ancient musical instrument, similar to a dulcimer or a zither, and played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum.
    And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps. (Nehemiah 12:27, KJV)

Extensive Definition

A psaltery is a stringed musical instrument of the harp or the zither family. The psaltery of Ancient Greece (Epigonion) dates from at least 2800 BC, when it was a harp-like instrument. Etymologically the word derives from the Ancient Greek ψαλτήριον (psalterion) “stringed instrument, psaltery, harp” and that from the verb ψάλλω (psallo) “to touch sharply, to pluck, pull, twitch” and in the case of the strings of musical instruments, “to play a stringed instrument with the fingers, and not with the plectron”.
In the King James Version of the Bible, "psaltery", and its plural, "psalteries", is used to translate the Hebrew keliy (כלי) in Psalm 71:22 and I Chronicles 16:5; nevel (נבל) in I Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5; I Kings 10:12; I Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 20, 28; 25:1, 6; II Chronicles 5:12; 9:11; 20:28; 29:25; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalms 33:2; 57:6; 81:2; 92:3; 108:2; 144:9; and 150:3; and pesanterin (פסנתרין) in Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, and 15.
In the Christian era a psaltery consisting of a soundboard with several pre-tuned strings that are usually plucked, came into use. It was also known by the name canon from the Greek word κανών, "kanon" which means rule, principle and also "mode". The modern Greek folk instrument is called by its diminutive, kanonaki. The instrument is usually small enough to be portable; its shape and range vary. It is depicted in a number of artworks from the Medieval Period.
In the 19th Century several forms came into use, notably the guitar zither and the Autoharp.
In the 20th century, the bowed psaltery has come into wide use. It is set up in a triangular format so that the end portion of each string can be bowed.
psaltery in German: Psalterium
psaltery in French: Psaltérion
psaltery in Italian: Salterio (musica)
psaltery in Finnish: Psalttari (soitin)
psaltery in Dutch: Psalterium
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