Psalterium (instrument)

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Salon des luthiers - Trad'envie 2016 (21).jpg
Other namesPsaltery
Classification String instrument
Playing range
Drone (music)
Related instruments
Hammered dulcimer, Tabor, Psaltery, Zither, Aeolian harp

A psalterium /sɒlˈtɪəriəm/, or tambourin à cordes, is an ancient stringed musical instrument, the name of which is synonymous with the psaltery. In specific usage, this name denotes a form of long psaltery that is tuned to provide drone chords. Sometimes called a "string drum", though not to be confused with a friction drum also called a "string drum", it is usually used as rhythm accompaniment with a form of tabor pipe.[1] It is also known as tambourin de Béarn[1] or Tambourin de Gascogne[2] in French, ttun-ttun [cunˈcun] (for the sound emitted) in Basque, salmo in Spanish, and chicotén in Aragonese.

Some authors have called into question the inclusion of the Pyrenean stringed drum under the name of psalterium.[3]


It is slung on the arm or over the shoulder of a player who uses the same hand to play the pipe, while striking the strings with a linen covered stick held in the other hand. The 6 strings (3 sets) are most often tuned in octaves that match the keynote of the tabor pipe, and can be played pianissimo as well as forte.

Extent and uses[edit]

The instrument is currently widespread in the western Pyrenees, and it bears the hallmark of the territory. Apparently invented in the 15th century, it came into use in the Pyrenees, where it took hold.[4] It is popular in the easternmost Basque province of Soule (Zuberoa), where it provides along with the three hole flute (xirula) the necessary musical background for traditional dance performances and the carnival set of performances called maskarada, which takes place on a yearly basis in different villages of the former viscounty.[5]

After losing ground during the 20th century in western and central Pyrenees, namely Bigorre, Béarn and Soule, the practice of the three hole flute and tambourin came almost to a halt after World War II, except for the Ossau Valley in Béarn.[6] Evidence has been gathered also that with different names (such as salterio) it was played along with the flute early in the 20th century in small areas of High Aragon.[3] From the 1970s on, the instrument has shown renewed vitality.[citation needed]

A psalterium player in Occitania.
A psalterium player in Occitania.


It is a very simple form of psaltery or box zither, made of a wooden sounding box, with strings stretched from end to end, lengthwise. Its construction is similar to that of the Aeolian harp or Appalachian dulcimer. The Pyrenean version of the instrument numbers 4 to 10 strings but 3 sets of 2 (6 total) is the common arrangement.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Musical Instruments". Wood-n-Bone. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 29 January 2008.
  2. ^ Blades, James; et al. (2001). "Tambourin de Béarn". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan.
  3. ^ a b "Some notes on the Pyrenean Stringed Drum with five musical examples" (PDF). Euskonews&Media. Retrieved 29 January 2008.
  4. ^ "Mixel ETXEKOPAR & François ROSSÉ Une certaine Soule musique". ETHNOTEMPOS. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2008. Article in French
  5. ^ "Instruments de la Música Tradicional Basca". de bat a. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2008. Article in Catalan
  6. ^ "Flutes et Tambourin de Cordes, Flabutas et Tamborin". Son d'Aquí. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2008. Article in French

External links[edit]