The psalmodicon, (or psalmodikon), is a single-stringed musical instrument, developed in Scandinavia for simplifying music in churches and schools, and providing an alternative to the fiddle for sacred music.:19 Beginning in the early 19th century, it was adopted by many rural churches in Scandinavia; later, immigrants brought the instrument to the United States.
At the time, many congregations could not afford organs. Dance instruments were considered inappropriate for sacred settings, so violins were not allowed. The psalmodikon, on the other hand, was inexpensive to build, was not used for dancing, took up little space, and could be played by people with little musical training. Its slow, melodic quality worked well with the hymns of the period. Examples of older printed music from these churches often have numbers written over the words, corresponding to numbers painted on the fret board of the psalmodikon. This system, known as siffernotskrift, allowed players who could not read standard musical notation to accompany hymns. As churches saved money for organs, however, psalmodikons became less common; by the late 20th century, they were rarely seen outside of museums.
The instrument consists of a long box, upon which is a diatonic fretboard. It has one single string of gut (or in the modern day nylon); some earlier variants included metal sympathetic strings that were not touched, but vibrated due to the sound waves around them.
Though some books attribute the instrument's invention to one Johann Dillner, others note that he promoted, rather than invented, the instrument. There is some scholarly consensus that the instrument first developed in Denmark around 1820, and spread from there.:19 In the 1830s and 1840s, the Norwegian music educator Lars Roverud traveled widely in Norway popularising the instrument for training students and congregations in singing.
In the United States, the instrument retains a small following among Scandinavian-descended Americans, who have formed the Nordic-American Psalmodikonforbundet to promote and preserve the instrument, and produce recordings and tutorials.:19
The instrument is also known in Lithuania as manikarka; a two string variant developed within Latvian folk music, and became the ģīga. In Estonia it is known as the moldpill or mollpill. Among its alternate spellings is the Norwegian salmodikon or salmedunken.
- Ralph Lee Smith (19 March 2010). Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-7412-1.
- Svenskt musikhistoriskt arkiv (1974). Bulletin. p. 6. - The psalmodicon was also used in Finland, in Estonia, and by the Scandinavian immigrants in North America. Dillner's pupil and colleague, Lars Paul Esbjörn, who emigrated from Sweden to America in l849, took with him both instruments
- Francis William Galpin (1937). A Textbook of European Musical Instruments: Their Origin, History and Character. Williams & Norgate, Limited. - The Norwegian and Swedish Psalmodikon, of somewhat the same outline, was introduced by Dillner (c. 1810) for accompanying the Church hymn-singing; it has one melody string of gut and eight sympathetic strings of metal.
- Charles Seeger (1 January 1977). Studies in Musicology, 1935-1975. University of California Press. pp. 258–. ISBN 978-0-520-02000-9.
- Gordon Cox; Robin Stevens (3 November 2011). Origins and Foundations of Music Education: Cross-Cultural Historical Studies of Music in Compulsory Schooling. Continuum International Publishing. pp. 87–. ISBN 978-1-4411-5593-1.
- Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR.: Social sciences. Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus. p. 21.
- Ole H. Bremnes. Salmodikon. Forlaget Habet, 1998 (Norwegian)
- Ardith K. Melloh (1981). Grandfather's Songbooks, Or, The Psalmodikon in America. Swedish Pioneer Historical Society.
- Psalmodikon. 1830.
- Rodney Sjöberg (1986). Psalmodikon: byggkursidé skiss. R. Sjöberg.