Psalmodikon, a summary in English

by Gunnar Fredelius


The Psalmodikon

In the second half of the 19th century, psalmodicon was the most common musical instrument in Sweden. It was also widely spread in Norway during the same period. Many emigrated from these two countries, and they brought their psalmodikon. it might come as a surprise, that even as the psalmodikon was common in Norway, Sweden, Finland and also Estland, in a way it saw the light the first time in Denmark.

In 1822 the “Pedagosike Selskabs komiteer” founded “ Komiteen for Sangens Udbredelse”. Meaning the "Educational Society Committees" founded the Committee for spreading of singing. The goal was to improve the teaching of music, singing, in the schools. In a protocol from that year J W Bruun presents his new instrument. The Psalmodicon. He found inspiration from the monochord often used for education purposes. Of course he also had knowledge of other "real" musical instruments.

His instrument lacked fretboard and sound holes. There were marks at the lid of the instrument, so that you knew where to press to get the desired pitch. He claimed to have made an instrument, so easy to learn, so that anyone, without any knowledge of musical theory, within an hour could figure out the melody, using a special musical notation. Siffernotskrivt, where numbers indicates the pitch instead of letters or names for the tones like do re mi fa and so on.


In Sweden Johannes Dillner was looking for an instrument that anyone could play. Primary to find a way to make it possible for the population to learn the melodies to the new hymn book, without being able to read the usual music notation. He found that Bruun had come up with an instrument that theoretically suited that purpose.

In Norway Lars Roverud were looking for a way to help the musical education in the schools. He had been in Meckelburg and Kopanhagen to study their methods of teaching singing, using the siffernotskrift. In 1825 he finally got hold of a psalmodikon. He found an instrument of the Bruun type in a musical instrument store. However, he was very disappointed over what he saw.

Bruuns instrument was in reality not at all easy to play, if you wanted the pitch to be decent. Roverud and Dillner, at this time unknowing of each others doings, found that Bruun was on the right track BUT they both also saw the flaws. Especially the lack of a fretboard with frets. They started to modify Bruuns psalmodicon. They kept some things, and altered other. Dillner added a wooden, stair-like, fredboard and sound hole(s). Roverud also added a fretboard, but he moved it closer to the player, equipped it with metal frets.

They both modified not only the instrument, but also the siffernotskrift. Over the years to come, also others modified the siffernotskrift. Bruun made an instrument that was supposed to be easy to play, and a siffernotskrift. Roverud and Dillner modified the instrument so that it was much easier to play. The notation however, obviously was not that easy to read.

Bruun used transposition sticks. He also had different sizes of instruments for bass, alt etc. Roverud adopted these things. Dillner did not. He said you could use different strings, depending on the desired pitch. Later, the use of sticks for transposing and also different sizes of psalmodikon, found it's way also to Sweden.

Bruuns psalmodicon never made the success as the models of Dillner and Roveruds.
Bruun then made a new attempt, creating the tangent psalmodikon. It was actually spread in Finland and Sweden, and there are a few who still play them.

The classrooms eventually was equipped with pedal organs, and more people also began to play other isntruments, as the times got better. Before this time many played the fiddle and other folk musik instruments, but few could read music. The original idea with the psalmodicon was not to introduce an instrument for virtuoses. It was meant as an aid for those who could not read music. So from being the allegedly most common instrument, it was more and more replaced. It survived mainly in some parts of Sweden and Finland – I actually don't know about Norway, and also perhaps amongst the emigrants in USA. Västergötland, in southern Sweden was one of the places where it did not totally die out. We were taught how to play, by older relatives.

A difference between how the psalmodikon is played today in Sweden and USA, is that in Sweden almost gut strings are being used, and from what I have seen metal strings are used in USA

There is no way to know how many people play the psalmodikon for house needs. There is an organisation in Sweden with about 100 psalmodikon playing members. There are also some who play folkmusik and neofolkmusic on them, who do not join the organisation. So we know that there is a minimum of 125 players in Sweden. Perhaps many more - or not... in USA? A dozen? More? I would be greatful if anyone would enlighten me on that part