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How to Tune a Zither

In the early days of the zither, variations on how to tune the zither abounded. However, over time, two predominant methods of tuning the zither emerged. These two tuning methods are known as Munich and Viennese tuning. This article will walk you through the steps required to tune your zither to what is commonly referred to as "Munich tuning". If you've never tuned a zither before, tuning the strings that lay before you may seem like a daunting task. Don't be deterred.

There are numerous implements available that can be used to tune your zither, such as pitch pipes, tuning forks and electronic tuners. For tuning, I prefer to use an electronic tuner. To begin, place your zither on a flat, stable surface. Next, place your electronic tuner directly over the sound hole of the zither.

Beginning on string a, the string over the fretboard which is closest to you, tune the string to a ( a = A440 ) and work to the next string, which is also tuned to a ( also A440 ). After that, proceed to string 3 - tuned to d and so on.

Tuning of fretboard strings: a a d g c

Beginning closest to the fretboard and proceeding outward, away from the player, there are 27 open open strings for a standard concert zither. A harp zither will have a total of 37 open strings. The first set of 12 strings are known as the accompaniment strings ( Begleitsaiten ). The next group of 12 strings are known as the bass strings ( baßsaiten ).

Tuning of accompaniment strings ( open strings 1 - 12 ): eb bb f c g d a e b f# c# g#

Tuning of bass strings ( open strings 13 - 24): Eb Bb F C G D A E B F# C# G#

As can be seen above, the accompaniment and bass strings parallel each other exactly one octave apart. They are arranged in two sets of 12 strings each, one octave apart and paralleling each other exactly. The strings are tuned in the order of the circle of fifths.

Most zithers, even very old ones, will have at least two or three contrabass strings ( contrabaßsaiten ), beginning after the 24th open string. The maximum is thirteen. They usually begin with F ( the second F below middle C ) and then proceed chromatically downward. It is possible to tune them in the same circle of fifths pattern as the basic open strings, as was occasionally done in former days, but most players consider the chromatic form to be more convenient.

Tuning of contrabass strings ( open strings 25 - 37 ): F E Eb D C# C B Bb A G# G F# FF

When tuning your zither, a number of dynamics will come into play. Factors will include the age of the strings, the age of the instrument, general stability of your tuning pins and so on. After working though the entire set of strings, you may want to repeat the process as some strings may have shifted back out of tune during the tuning process.

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