Instrument Series: Kantele

The Finnish kantele (also known as the harppu in Sami) is a stringed instrument in the zither family. It is traditionally made of a single piece of wood with five or six horse hair strings that run from wooden tuning pegs to a metal bar in wooden brackets. Modern kanteles are often made from multiple pieces of wood and have between 5 and 40 metal strings. Although the tuning varies depending on the size, the five string kantele is traditionally tuned to the first five notes of either a major or minor scale.


The exact origins of the kantele are unknown. It is debated whether the instrument originated in Byzantium (now Istanbul) or in Uralic – Altaic antiquity and was taken to Finland by the Slavs, whether it originated in FInland (as per the epic Kalevala), or whether it originated in Asia. It is believed to be 2000 – 3000 years old.

The kantele was traditionally used to accompany Rune singers and in folk music. Though it’s had limited use in pop music, it can be found in the jazz music of Karelia and an electric version is sometimes used by the heavy metal band Amorphis. It can be found in the song Salt in Our Wounds by HIM.


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