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The Hungarian Zither

The Hungarian Zither or citera and the Bagpipe Bass



 valyucitera.jpgThe Hungarian Zither has great variety in form, size, and timbre. The simplest version called the“trough-Zither” resembles an oblong rectangular trough, and its open side facing the table.

citera-hangolasa.jpgThe zither has only a few strings, on which the main melody is generally played, the remainder strings (4-16) called the accompanying or “guest” strings, produce the keynote, the perfect fifth, upper fifth and upper octave of the melody strings. As expected the presence of these guest strings determines the key in which the melody can be played. As Sárosi mentions between the two world wars there were villages in Hungary where Zither could be found in every house. The reason for the instrument’s popularity its simplicity: it is easy to make (usually they were home-made), and easy to play (Sárosi, 1998).



The Zither can be diatonic or chromatic. The diatonic Zither which is used by the Consonate method has a finger board in which the frets are under the strings, while the chromatic has two pairs of melody-strings with two different frets. The fret under the outer pair of strings produces a Mixolydian scale, and the inner pair provides the missing chromatic notes. Skilled Zither-players can show their talent performing rich and various ornaments.


Bagpipe-bass (the accompaniment with the base sound and the perfect fifth) is a typical phenomenon in Hungarian folk music, named after the drones of a bagpipe. It can be found in the works of the two famous Hungarian composer Bartók and Kodály, but according to Ittzés it has been present in every musical style since the Renaissance, for example: in Haydn’s last symphony, in the folk dance scene of Beethowen’s Pastoral Symphony, or in Chopin’s works (Ittzés, 2002. p.92.).

tekerolant.jpgOther folk instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy (Hungarian nyenyere) or the zither are also using this pattern. The hurdy-gurdy contains three strings: one is operated by wooden keys, and the other two, which are called the creaking string produce a bourdon accompaniment.



Description of the Hungarian Zither: Kodály, 1971, p.129, Sárosi 1986 p.133

Pictures from: and Bolya, Mátyás



Ittzés, M (2002): Zoltán Kodály, in retrospect : A Hungarian national composer in the 20th century on the border of East and West. Kecskemét: Kodály Institute.

Kodály, Zoltán (1971).: Folk music of Hungary. engl. ed. / New York ; Frederick A. Praeger Publishers.

 Sárosi, B (1986): Folk music : Hungarian musical idiom. Corvina Kiadó Vállalat, Budapest,


In Hungarian:

Balogh, S. (1998) Citeraiskola : módszertani füzet és példatár kezdő és haladó citerások részére / Magyar Művelődési Intézet : [Óbudai Népzenei Iskola].

Balogh, S., Bolya, M. (2008) Magyar citerazene : tananyag, példatár és adattár az alap-, közép- és felsőfokú tanulmányokhoz / Budapest, Flaccus.

Suggested citation:

Tiszai, L. 2015, March 07. Consonante /The Hungarian Zither.