AskDefine | Define zither

The Collaborative Dictionary

Zither \Zith"er\, n. [G. zither. See Cittern.] (Mus.) An instrument of music used in Austria and Germany. It has from thirty to forty wires strung across a shallow sounding-board, which lies horizontally on a table before the performer, who uses both hands in playing on it. Note: [Not to be confounded with the old lute-shaped cittern, or cithern.] [1913 Webster]

Word Net

zither n : a musical stringed instrument with strings stretch over a flat sounding box; it is laid flat and played with a plectrum and with fingers [syn: cither, zithern]



  • a UK /ˈzɪ.ðə(ɹ)/ /"zI.D@(r)/
  • a US /ˈzɪ.ðɝ/


from cithara > κιθάρα (lit., guitar)


  1. A musical instrument consisting of a flat sounding box with numerous strings, placed on a horizontal surface, and played with a plectrum and fingertips; similar to a dulcimer. In the Norwegian harpeleik and Swedish cittra versions, the instrument is considered a chorded zither and usually has 7 (Norwegian) to 9 (Swedish) chords, some with as many as 11 strings each, which are mostly strummed and damped as chords, although sometimes plucked. The Norwegian harpeleik and Swedish cittra are still in production by a German manufacturer.


musical instrument
  • Bosnian: citra
  • Chinese: 琴, 古琴
  • Croatian: citra
  • Czech: citera
  • Danish: citer
  • Dutch: citer
  • Finnish: sitra
  • French: cithare
  • German: Zither
  • Greek: τσίτερ
  • Hebrew: ציתר
  • Hungarian: citera
  • Icelandic: sítar
  • Italian: cetra
  • Latin: cithara
  • Norwegian: sitar
  • Polish: cytra
  • Portuguese: cítara
  • Romanian: ţiteră
  • Russian: цитра
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: цитра
    Roman: citra
  • Slovak: citra
  • Slovene: citre
  • Spanish: cítara
  • Swedish: cittra

Derived terms

Related terms

The zither is a musical string instrument, most commonly in Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, the southern regions of Germany, alpine Europe and East Asian cultures. The term "citre" is also used more broadly, to describe the entire family of stringed instruments in which the strings do not extend beyond the sounding box, including the hammered dulcimer, psaltery, Appalachian dulcimer, kantele, guzheng, koto, gayageum, đàn tranh, kanun, autoharp, piano, harpsichord, santur, swarmandal, and others.

Etymology and instrument family

The word "citrara" is derived from the Greek word kithara, an instrument from classical times used in Ancient Greece and later throughout the Roman Empire and in the Arab world (Arabic قيثارة); the word "guitar" derives from "kithara" as well.

History and development

The earliest known instrument of the zither family is a Chinese guqin found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng dating from 433 BC, featuring tuning pegs, a bridge and goose-like feet.
In modern entertainment, the zither is perhaps most famous for its role in the soundtrack, especially in the opening scene, of the classic film noir The Third Man. The instrument has a prominent solo in one of Johann Strauss II's most famous waltzes, "Tales from the Vienna Woods". It is also used by multi-instrumentalist Laraaji on the third release of Brian Eno's ambient music series, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. In more popular music, Australian-born singer Shirley Abicair popularised the zither when she used it widely as accompaniment in her popular TV shows, live performances and recordings in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, Jerusalem-based multi-instrumentalist Bradley Fish has used zithers in a multitude of styles on the soundtracks of various Sony Digital Pictures films. In Slovenia, at the end of the 19th century, in particular in small towns and boroughs the concert zither was well-liked and inspired people to make music at home.

Slovenian zither

Like many other stringed instruments, acoustic and electric forms exist; in the acoustic version, the strings are stretched across the length of the soundbox, and neither version has a neck. They can be divided into two classes: fretted and fretless. A musician that plays the instrument is called citarist or citre player.

Violinske citre (Violin zither)

Violin zither are,new version of slovenian zithers.


Wooden board zither of the Khakass people, usually with 6 or 7 strings stretched across movable bridges and tuned a fourth or fifth apart. The body is hollowed out from underneath like an upturned trough. It has a convex surface and an end bent towards the ground. The strings ar plucked and the sound is very smooth. The instrument was considered to be sacrosanct and playing it was a rite bound to taboos. The instrument was mainly used at court and in monasteries, since strings symbolised the twelve levels of the palace hierarchy. Related instruments include the Tuvan chadagan, the Mongolian yatga, the Japanese koto, the Chinese quin and the Korean kayagum.
The Khakass use this instrument to accompany lyrical, historical and epic songs and heroic tales. The Khakass sacred heroic epic says: "We are all universal, since we participate in the creation of the world every year, every day and every moment". This goes also for their folklore, customs and traditions. Artistic creativity is interwoven with material production, the way of life and everyday relationships. In traditional Khakass society every man and every women has the gift of creativity. A genre of oral folk creative work, known as the takhpakh (= improvised songs) was especially wide spread. Women hold an important place in Khakass society that is reflected in many heroic poems and epics. Female warriors have been great hereos against external enemies. Women are "pogho" and how they live is explained in one specific tale, where the rules are described in ornamental form. The poghos build a bridge between generations and are also great shamans (Kam religion).


The küsle, a trapeziform zither with between 20 and 22 strings plucked with the hands.


  • "Zither" from the University of Michigan School of Information's CHICO project

External links

zither in Bavarian: Zitha
zither in Catalan: Cítara
zither in Czech: Citera
zither in Danish: Citar
zither in German: Zither
zither in Spanish: Cítara
zither in French: Cithare
zither in Galician: Cítola
zither in Italian: Cetra
zither in Hebrew: ציתר
zither in Hungarian: Citera
zither in Dutch: Citer
zither in Japanese: ツィター
zither in Norwegian: Siter
zither in Norwegian Nynorsk: Siter
zither in Polish: Cytra
zither in Portuguese: Cítara
zither in Slovenian: Citre
zither in Finnish: Sitra
zither in Swedish: Cittra
zither in Ukrainian: Цитра
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