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How to Play Chords on an Anglo Saxon Lyre
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The Anglo Saxon lyre is an string instrument played by Germanic tribes living in Europe, popular approximately 600AD-1000AD. The Anglo Saxon lyre generally had 5-7 strings, with 6 being most common. Though the lyre could be played like a harp, with strings simply plucked with the fingers to form melodies and harmonies, some researchers believe that the AS lyre was also used to play chords. While the right hand strummed like on a modern guitar, the left hand would muffle some strings while allowing others to sound, in much the same way that the buttons of a modern autoharp muffle some strings and allow specific others to form a chord. Modern musicians call this technique "block and strum." Since this technique is believed to be based on historical playing, it falls under the category of "historically informed performance" techniques.
Pick up your lyre (let's assume a 6-string in C for the sake of argument) and tune it to a standard diatonic major tuning: C-D-E-F-G-A.

To form a C Major chord: use your left-hand fingertips to muffle the second, fourth, and sixth strings. In tablature, this would be o-X-o-X-o-X, with the "o" representing an open string, and the "X" representing a blocked/muffled string (as you're looking at the face of the instrument). This leaves you with C, E, and G, which are the notes of a C major chord. Now just strum your right hand much like playing the guitar.

To form a D Minor chord: block the first, third, and fifth strings. Like this: X-o-X-o-X-o. This gives you the notes D-F-A, which form a Dm chord.

Tips and Warnings:

  • If your lyre is in a higher or lower tuning, just transpose. That is, if your harp is in D (one step higher than C), your equivalent chords will be one step higher.
  • If you aren't getting clear sound, make sure your muffling fingers aren't spilling over onto the neighboring strings. Also ensure that each string is high enough up on the peg that it's not hitting the arm or part of the body. But you also want them low enough to they put pressure on the bridge and don't hover above it, so it's a balancing act.
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