This article gives a short introduction to choosing a Zither ring for playing your Zither.
Striking the strings
In the Introduction to the Technique of the Zither, Volume 1 of Meine Methode, Richard Grünwald wrote:
"Der wichtigste Zuberhörteil zum Spiel auf der Zither ist der für den Daumen der rechten Hand zum Anschlag der Griffbrettsaiten bestimmte Zitherring."
The most important accessory for playing the Zither is a particular Zither ring for the thumb of the right hand used to stroke the fingerboard strings.
He goes on to describe an ideal ring as being made of nickel silver (Neusilber) or a copper alloy, with a point that is 1 to 1.2 mm wide, and somewhat elastic. The size of the ring is correct when it can be slid up to the fingernail root and can stay put without undue pressure. The point should be stick out about 3 to 4 mm from the side of the thumb. If the point is too long, it would tend to catch on a string on the back-stroke; too short and the string would not be definitively plucked and the tone would not ring out.
Grünwald's apostle, Josef Brandlmeier further stated in his Handbook of the Zither that the Zither ring should not be too hard nor too thin; neither should it be made of soft materials like horn which produce dull sounds. The point of the ring should be lightly curved away from the direction of the down stroke. He recommends the special rings of the company Meinel in Markneukirchen which are made of a copper-nickel alloy.
Types of Zither rings
The three rings on the right of the picture are representative of the types that Grünwald and Brandlmeier described. Such rings are commonly used even today. The player strokes the strings always on the down stroke with these types of rings.
The silver rings in the middle of the picture, also seen in the first picture of this article, have been developed recently. The point of the ring permits plucking the fingerboard strings on the up stroke just as well as on the down stroke. These sorts of rings, called "Rückschlag
" or backstroke rings are used with the correspondingly new "Wechselschlag
" playing technique, that is, the alternating stroke technique. In principle, one can play twice as fast using this technique. The pictured Rückschlag rings are two styles made by Franz Schilling. The one in the foreground is the newer model with a wider body that is intended to sit more comfortably on the thumb, and has a slightly longer point to afford more stand-off from the strings.
The white plastic ring on the left of the picture is actually a guitar thumb pick. Though inexpensive (less than $1), it produces a nice sound and can also be used with the Wechselschlag technique. Remarkably, this ring makes it easy to control dynamics. The Dunlop "S" is to be recommended over the "M" which has a wide and thick point that makes a less refined sound. The downside to the plastic material is that eventually the point wears down, but one can buy several of these rings for the price of a single metal ring.
Choosing a Zither ring
The famous French Horn player, Philip Farkas, discussed in his book, The Art of French Horn Playing
, the search for the perfect mouthpiece:
"Anyone who has been a horn player for more than five years could probably produce a cigar-box full of mouthpieces, each of which had brought a minute or week of elation as being "it" only to be followed by the letdown when the fresh new muscles called into play by the different shaped mouthpiece became tired."
Analogously every Zither player probably has a bag full of rings. The best course of action is to find a ring that is a good compromise and learn how to use it well. Your teacher can certainly help with making a good choice. However, seriously consider using a ring that is suited to the Wechselschlag technique. A new player would do well to start right out learning this technique. (The Wechselschlag technique will be the topic of another article.) In any case, choose a ring that fits well on the thumb. Here the advice of Grünwald and Brandlmeier is quite sound. The ring should fit snugly and comfortably, but not cut off the circulation nor tear up the flesh near the fingernail root. Rings come in a variety of sizes and are usually numbered to indicate the size. Beware, though, that there is no standardization of the numbering between manufacturers; the numbers are only relevant in comparing the rings of a particular manufacturer for a particular style of ring.