Hal Weeks:

Autoharp : Skype Lessons and YouTube's "Stalking the Wild Autoharp"


What is the Prizim Zither?
Much as a prism bends white light into colorful rainbows, the Prizim Zither bends simple musical chords into more colorful ones. The sparkling melodies and harmonies of the Prizim are a delight to hear. The Prizim is the next step in the evolution of a truly ancient instrument. It was developed in 2006 by Todd Crowley with help from Will Smith and Hal Weeks.
The Prizim is the latest member of the ancient Zither family. The instrument dates back further than recorded history. The Prizim is an evolved autoharp; or, as one of the design collaborators called it, “an autoharp on steroids.”

The autoharp uses a simple mechanism whereby the player depresses a single button attached to a bar to create one of up to 21 simple chords (major, minor and dominant 7ths).  The Prizim player must depress two buttons to create those same chords. Single bars on the Prizim create scales. When 2 of these bars are combined, chords then become possible for the player…including Majors, Minors, Major 7ths, Minor 7ths, add9, sus4, minor 6’s major 6’s, and 9th chords.

Because the Prizim is chromatically tuned it can play in 6 keys.

The Prizim, unlike the chromatic autoharp, can "open chord" diatonically in all 6 keys. Further,  it's button layout is identical in all 6 keys, unlike other two button types of autoharp.

The technique of playing two bars at once is not a new innovation; it was used by several autoharp players in the past 20 or 30 years. The Prizim is different than these “tandem bar” predecessors in several ways: First, it retains the same arrangements of the fingering positions throughout it’s 6 keys; the player merely moves everything over by one button and the music moves up or down the circle of 5ths, making left hand technique almost as easy as playing on a standard autoharp. The button layout is also congruent with a very commonly used autoharp button layout, (the so called Bryan Bowers layout) so that the playercan adapt to playing the Prizim in very little time. (Two bars may be depressed with one finger). The second way the Prizim is different than other tandem bar harps is that it has diatonic major scales on 6 of it’s bars; so it can perform diatonic “open chording”, (an advanced technique heard previously only on diatonic autoharps) not in only one or two keys, but in six keys!

The Prizim’s unique structure was created in 2006 by Todd Crowley, with advice from Will Smith and Hal Weeks.
For 5 years, we called the instrument the “Diachromic Autoharp” (Diatonic/Chromatic). It has now been dubbed the “Prizim Zither".  It’s player “bends” the straight chords into “color” chords much as a prism would bend light into colorful rainbows.

I put together the first prototype, played it, and never went back to playing straight autoharp again.  This is so much better in every way.


Here is a chart that shows the button layout.  Note the bridges between two keys...this shows that these two bars can be depressed to create the chord shown.   There are also many chords that are not shown here, involving buttons that are not directly adjacent to one another (putting those on the chart would create a lot of confusion graphically.)  Note also that in the upper left, there is a demonstration of the notes on each type of chord bar.   One need only transpose these around the circle of 5ths to do a whole Prizim.  

It is very easy to construct a Prizim from an existing chromatic....you don't have to start with new felts on most of the bars...just remove the notches for the extra notes,...the major chords become the "*" bars....the 7ths become the 9ths, and the minors become the min 6-7's. 

If you have any questions, you can contact me and I will gladly assist you in setting one up!