THE GROUND-ZITHER

  January 04, 2022   Read time 1 min
THE GROUND-ZITHER
THE GROUND-ZITHER, in its Annamese form, has a pit dug in the ground and covered with a piece of bark as a soundboard. A string is stretched horizontally between two posts; another string, tied to the middle of the first and acting as a bridge, runs vertically to the bark lid, severing the string into two acoustical sections.

When the horizontal string is struck with sticks, its vibrations are transmitted by the vertical string to the lid, which resounds over the pit. The string has the gigantic length of thirteen or fourteen feet, which is one reason for supposing that the Annamese ground-zither is the oldest one, because experience shows that the evolution of every primitive instrument begins with large sizes and ends with small ones. The string is not made of twisted fiber, nor of gut or horsehair or wire. It is a ribbon or rattan half an inch thick which, owing to its great length, is elastic enough to vibrate when struck with a stick. The rattan is replaced by twisted fiber only in later ground-zithers.

The ground-zither is also interesting from the angle of musical evolution. Two different notes can be produced successively if the central cord severs the string into two vibrating sections of unequal length. On the island of Madura near Java, a very backward country, the natives even make a double-zither with two pits and two bridges. These afford three different vibrating lengths in the same string: from the first peg to the first bridge, between the two bridges, and from the second bridge to the second peg in the earth. Thus, the Madurese play rudimentary melodies of three notes repeated over and over.

A second type of ground-zither is still preserved among Javanese children and by the Bube on Fernando Póo in the African Atlantic. Several strings with a separate pit each are stretched side by side; this is once more the first principle of uniting instruments of the same kind, but of different length, to form sets. The only recorded ritual in which the ground-zither is used was found among the Makua in East Africa. There it is struck when, before initiation, girls are taught about sexual intercourse. The principle of the ground-zither, combined with other principles, is characteristic of the musical bow.