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date: 31 March 2020


  • Ingrid Rüütel


Estonian box zither (psaltery). Early instruments, with five to seven strings, had a trapeziform body made from a hollowed log covered with a soundtable. This type of kannel could be played by plucking individual strings for the melody or by strumming chords (found only in Setu). In the latter case, all unnecessary strings were damped with the fingers. This early type of kannel survived longest in Setu and on the islands. Analogous instruments, like the kantele, are widespread among neighbouring peoples.

A new type of kannel (sometimes called simmel) came to be used in the 19th century, at first with 15 or more melody strings, later with the addition of three bass strings and, in the 20th century, with special accompanying strings tuned in chords. This instrument can be played in one of two ways (with some variations): one hand strums chords while the other damps the unnecessary strings (the highest notes of the chords form the melody, usually complemented by additional plucked notes); or the melody is plucked with one hand and the accompaniment with the other. The latter ‘harp technique’ is the more recent....

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