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Common steps and sub-activities

Listening to lutes, lyres and fiddles

We are apt to think of the lyre lute and fiddle as instruments capable and perhaps even designed for playing tunes, but the original musical instruments were single stringed and were played with a bow to produce a constant hum – tone.  One researcher said that “the lyre evolved from the archer’s bow” and it may have, but of course there is symbolism here because bows and arrows have symbolic meaning [as do musical instruments].

Both the link with the names of instruments and the origins of stringed instruments are described by Vignoli in the following quote in which he surmises that a bow string when played gives off  a sound and it was this recognition of taut string and sound which resulted in the first string instruments.

Tito Vignoli – On Dreams, Illusions, Hallucinations, Delirium and Madness

Pictet observes that one name for a lute is rudri, from rud, to lament, that is a plaintive instrument; in Persian we have rod for song, music or a stringed instrument… The Persian rud, roda a bow string, also means a song… The Greek rovoc must be referred to the same root and signifies a bow string, a sound, an accent, a tone.  Benfey traces the Greek …rudra.  Kuhn confirms this transformation by the analogy between the Vedic god Rudra and the Greek Apollo, both of whom are armed with a bow.  Rudra like Apollo is a great physician.

The fiddle

The term fiddle these days has a tendency to be used to describe a violin, but now and far more in the past fiddle simply meant any bowed string musical instrument.

The bowed lyra was mentioned in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih; in his descriptions he describes  the lyra (lūrā) as the typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the urghun (organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre) and the salandj (probably a bagpipe)– all, you will notice, either pipe instruments or drone instruments or string instruments. In the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle  and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments.

The fiddle has a long association with the spiritual world.  The lira da braccio (or lyra de bracio) for example, was a string instrument related to the medieval fiddle.   In many depictions of the instrument, it is being played by mythological characters, frequently members of angel consorts, and most often by Orpheus and Apollo.

The association between the ‘fiddle’ and spiritual experience was what prompted the Christian Church to label the instrument as the music of the devil, in an attempt to ban spiritual experience to any but the ‘clerical elite’.

In Scandinavian folklore, the nix (nøkken) water spirit plays the flute or fiddle/violin.  The Hardingfele [a Norwegian fiddle with a long history] was actually banned by the Christian church because of its spiritual assocations.  During religious revivals in the 1800s many fiddles (regular and Hardanger) were destroyed.  Many were hidden by their owners from religious zealots who thought "that it would be best for the soul that the fiddles be burned".

Marc Chagall - The Fiddler

The association of the fiddle with the devil was the Christian church’s attempt to ban spiritual experience

The fiddle also has a symbolic meaning – so you need to be aware of this when looking at the above – see fiddles.

Lyres and lutes

One of the earliest stringed instruments was the kithara.  The kithara (Greek) or cithara (Roman) was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family - a version of the two-stringed lyre, primarily used by professional musicians. Most kitharas had more than two strings, upwards of seven. 

The Indian equivalent of the lute is the veena.  The Veena  is a plucked stringed instrument used mostly in Carnatic Indian classical music. There are several variations of the veena, which in its South Indian form is a member of the lute family. One who plays the veena is referred to as a vainika.  And so we could go on, the use of music played on stringed instruments to provoke a spiritual experience is world wide and goes back thousands of years.

Method of use

Any stringed instrument has one or more strings.  This provides anyone wanting to use the instrument to provide a spiritual experience with a number of possible ways in which to get the range of sounds needed [including infrasound].

One string one note

Just one of the strings can be tuned played.  The key, in this case is to find an instrument that has low bass strings that can be played continuously or which can be played in a rhythmic pulsed way.

If we take as an example the octobass, which was an extremely large bowed string instrument constructed about 1850 in Paris by the French luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875), it has three strings the lowest of which is tuned to C1 (32.7 Hz), one octave below the lowest C of the cello (C2, 65.41 Hz) and the same as the lowest note of a modern double bass with a low C extension. Some more modern examples of the octobass are tuned to have the low C string at 16.25 Hz, which is to all intense and purposes infrasound at very close to the right sort of frequencies to provoke some quite interesting responses.

One string complex bowed overtones

The string itself does not need to be tuned to produce infrasound.  In any form of stringed instruments we have the possibility that one string of a certain pitch is producing frequencies that produce multiple sounds by interference.

The pitch of the string of an instrument may be more complex because although it may have one actual fundamental frequency, there may be any number of different additional unperceived additonal frequencies called  ‘overtones’.

‘Interference’ occurs when two waves superpose each other to form a resultant wave of greater or lower amplitude. In this case Interference is occurring because they come from the same source and because they have nearly the same frequency.

When two sinusoidal waves superimpose, the resulting waveform depends on the frequency (or wavelength) amplitude and relative phase of the two waves. If the two waves have the same amplitude A and wavelength the resultant waveform will have an amplitude between 0 and 2A depending on whether the two waves are in phase or out of phase.

But, if there is slight difference in the frequency and they are out of  phase, they don’t cancel each other out but generate a tiny wave equal to the difference between the two.

So, for example, if  a string with a fundamental frequency of  300HZ was played, which also had an overtone frequency of  310HZ, a pulsed signal of 10HZ would result.

Two strings [same instrument or different instruments] same tune

Any two strings tuned to approximately the same pitch may also produce a range of sounds by the same process of interference.  Thus two violins playing the same tune together where one is just very slightly ‘off key’ from the other could produce an extremely complex set of frequencies - ideal.

Even stringed instruments of high pitch can rather ironically produce infrasound.


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