|Normal Tuning of the Zither|
|Logic for using the circle of fifths|
|Putting things together|
Page 5 of 7
Logic for using the circle of fifths
Though at first it might seem awkward, at least visually, to order the pitches according to the circle of fifths, the arrangement is in fact very practical. Each Zither design reflects balances and trade-offs between constraints, tradition, and acoustical ideals. The most significant and almost immutable constraint is the span of the average right hand, between the right thumb, which has to pluck the highest pitches on the fingerboard strings, to the deepest bass strings the ring or little finger can reach.
At the core of most tonal music is the tension and resolution of the dominant to tonic sequence. The bass notes usually move down a fifth or up a fourth to the tonic. In G-Major it is quite handy that the dominant bass note d (18) is right next to the tonic G (17). The subdominant, or c (16) in the G-Major example, is again next door to the G. So it is very easy to play a I-IV-V-I sequence in the bass. If the strings were arranged chromatically, the player would have to jump all over the accompaniment strings to achieve the same end.
The circle of fifths arrangement also makes chording in the accompaniment strings within easy grasp of the right hand. Anyone who has played the Zither will know that moving between chords is as simple as shifting the fingers in parallel from plucking one set of strings to the adjacent strings. For example, the G Major chord is played by plucking string 5&6 with the forefinger (2), the 9 string with the middle finger (3), and the 17 string with the ring or little finger (4 or 5). (Fingers are numbered 1 through 5 starting with the thumb.) Move each finger one string to the left and the player is prepared to play the C Major chord; move each finger two strings to the right for a D Major chord. For one who has not played the Zither before it might be a little difficult to visualize from diagrams. Once you get a chance to "feel" the chords on a Zither you will quickly understand how simple the circle of fifths logic is. If you do not have a Zither at hand, please refer to these diagrams to get a sense of the logic.