Category Archives: Lyres



Name: Jouhikko.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.22.71
Tuning: G / D / a
Country: Finland & Karelia, Russian Federation.
Region: North Eastern Europe.

Description: The Jouhikko is a bowl-lyre that is played in Finland and neighbouring Karelia, Russia. The Jouhikko is both strung with horsehair and its bow is made with horsehair. The jouhikko is a member of a family of bowed lyre type instruments that stretches from Russia in the east, through Scandinavia, to Britain and neighbouring Ireland. Most of these regions have only very sketchy evidence about their extinct bowed lyre traditions.

Etymology: The Jouhikko is also called jouhikannel or jouhikantele, meaning a bowed kantele. In English, the usual modern designation is bowed lyre, although the earlier preferred term bowed harp is also met with. There are different names for the instrument in different languages.

History: The earliest documentation of the jouhikko is a depiction of a stone carving from the Trondheim Cathedral in Norway. Dating back from the second quarter of the 14th century. 18th-century writers in Latin mention instruments that seem to be a jouhikko, but the first illustration comes from c. 1830 CE. Folk music collectors in the late 19th and early 20th century visited players in Finland and Karelia, and collected instruments, noted tunes, made field recordings and took photographs.

The four-stringed Estonian talharpa and hiiu kannel have a wider hand hole and can play a wider range and shifting drones. The Welsh crwth is the most developed of this family to survive, with six strings, a fingerboard, and a complex playing style.

Extinct or obscure variants include the Shetland gue and the English crowd. Other instruments are perhaps less closely related, including the bowed zithers such as the Finnish harppu, Icelandic fiðla, and the North American Inuit tautirut.

Playing techniques: The strings are stopped by touching them with the back of the fingers. the knuckles or nails, as there is no fingerboard to press the strings against. This fingering method is rather similar to the igil or the sarangi which also lack fingerboards. To touch the melody string the hand is inserted through a hole in the flat wooden board that makes up the top third of the instrument.

On a 3-string instrument tuned G / D / a, the first note of the scale is played on the g string, which cannot be fingered as it lies on the far side of the drone and out of reach of the hand hole. The second note is the a string played open. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth notes of the scale are played with the backs of the four fingers, stopping the a string. Whilst it is possible to play higher notes by moving the hand further up the string all the traditional melodies are within a compass of six notes, the first six notes of either a major or minor scale.

Repertoire: The jouhikko repertoire was mostly collected in the field by A. O. Väisänen from 1913. To 1931. Traditionally the jouhikko was used for playing dance music. The collected melodies are very short, and they were largely improvised. The scale of the jouhikko is only 6 notes, with a constantly sounding drone.

Tuning: The two stringed jouhikko is played with only one string being the melody string and the second string a drone. For a three stringed jouhikko the playing string has two additional drone strings. It is generally tuned to a D par Nieminen’s charts although absolute pitch is not fixed.

The upper or right hand string, passing over the finger-hole, is fingered to give a scale, and this scale typically runs upwards from the note a 4th above the drone, or in Nieminen’s charts, G / A / B / C / D / E. The third or left hand string can be tuned down to a lower drone, or up to provide one of the melody notes.

Citations: Bibliography: Andersson, Otto. The Bowed Harp. Translated and edited by Kathleen Schlesinger. London: New Temple Press, 1930 ; Andersson, Otto. The Bowed Harp of Trondheim Cathedral and Related Instruments in East and West. The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 23, Aug. 1970, pp. 4–34 ; Nieminen, Rauno. Jouhikko — The Bowed Lyre. Kansanmusiikki-instituutin julkaisuja, Vol. 61. 2007 ;

Lyra Politica

Name: Lyra Politica.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Lyra > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.71
Country: Many.
Region: Greece, Turkey.

Description: The πολίτικη λύρα [Lyra politic] or lira is a direct descendant of the byzantine Lyra. An instrument that was prevalent throughout the Byzantine Empire. These instruments were the most popular form of instruments during this time. Remains of two actual examples of Byzantine lyras from the Middle ages have been found in excavations at Novgorod; one excavation dated to 1190 AD. The first known depiction of the instrument is on a Byzantine ivory casket [900–1100 AD], it preserved in the Bargello in Florence [Museo Nazionale, Florence, Coll. Carrand, No. 26].

In Use today: Versions of the Byzantine lyra are still played throughout the former lands of the Byzantine Empire: Greece where this instrument is known in three major forms, Cretan lyra classic or politica lyra [Politiki lyra, literal translation. “lyra of the City” i.e. Constantinople], Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia [Dalmatian Lijerica], Italy [Calabrian lira] and Turkey.

Examples are the Politiki lyra [i.e. lyra of the Polis, or City, referring to Constantinople], [in Greek: πολίτικη λύρα Politica Lyra] also known as the Classical Kemenche [in Turkish: Klasik kemençe or Armudî kemençe] from Constantinople. Karadeniz kemençe] in the Pontic Greek communities, that existed [or still exist] around the shores of the Black Sea. The gudok, a historical Russian instrument that survived until the 19th century, is also a variant of the Byzantine lyra.

Terminology: From the organological point of view, the Byzantine lyra would be classified under the category of bowed lutes in the chordophone family. However, the designation lyra [in Greek: λύρα ~ lūrā, English: lyre] constitute of a terminological survival relating to the performing method of an ancient Greek instrument.

The use of the term lyra for a bowed instrument was first recorded in the 9th century, probably as an application of the term lyre of the stringed musical instrument of classical antiquity to the new bowed string instrument. The Byzantine lyra is sometimes informally called a medieval fiddle, or a pear-shaped rebec, or a kemence, terms that may be used today to refer to a general category of similar stringed instruments played with a horsehair bow.

Lyra Politica
Name Tunings
Cretan Lyra A / D / G
Thrace, Karpathos & Dodecanese A / A / E
Drama E / G / E
Classical Kemence A / D / A

Citations: Bibliography: Arkenberg, Rebecca October 2002 – Renaissance Violins, Metropolitan Museum of Art, retrieved 2006-09-22 Baines, Anthony November 1992 – The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-311334-1 Butler, Paul  October 2003, The rebec project, Personal website, retrieved 2009-03-10 Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009 lira, Encyclopedia Britannica Online Kartomi, Margaret J. 1990, On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-42548-7 Grillet, Laurent 1901, Les ancetres du violon v. 1, Paris ;


Name: Lijerica.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Lyra > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.71
Country: Dalmatia, Croatia.
Region: Balkans & South Eastern Europe.

Description: The lijerica [in Croatian pronunciation: in IPA: lîjeritsa] is a musical instrument from Dalmatia, Croatia and it is played in the Croatian regions of eastern Hercegovina. It is played to accompany the traditional linđo dance from the region. The lijerica’s name comes from the lyra [in Greek: λύρα] the bowed instrument of the Byzantine Empire which it probably evolved from.

Origins: The lijerica is closely related to the bowed musical instrument lyra [lūrā] of the Byzantine Empire, an ancestor of most European bowed instruments and equivalent to the rebāb used in the Islamic Empires of that time.

Construction: It is a pear-shaped, three-stringed instrument which is played with a bow. The lijerica has a carved bridge that is installed underneath the playing strings. The instrument as is with its Byzantine Lyra ancestor.

Citations: Bibliography: Margaret J. Kartomi: On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990 “lira.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009 ;


The lyre [in Greek: λύρα, lýra] is a string instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later periods. The lyre is similar in appearance to a small harp but with distinct differences. In organology, lyres are defined as “yoke lutes”; being lutes whose strings are attached to a yoke. The concept of the design lies in body aligned to the frame built from two extending shafts held together by a bar on the same planar angle as the yoke [body].

In Ancient Greece, recitations of lyric poetry were accompanied by lyre playing. The earliest picture of a lyre with seven strings appears in the famous sarcophagus of Hagia Triada [a Minoan settlement in Crete]. The sarcophagus was used during the Mycenaean occupation of Crete [c. 1400 BC].

The lyre of classical antiquity was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum [pick], like a guitar or a zither, rather than being plucked with the fingers as with a harp. The fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord. Later instruments, also called lyres, were played with a bow in Europe and parts of the Middle East, namely the Byzantine lyra and its descendants.

Etymology: The earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning lyrists and written in the Linear B script. In classical Greek, the word lyre could either refer specifically to an amateur instrument, which is a smaller version of the professional cithara and eastern-Aegean barbiton, or lyre can refer generally to all three instruments as a family.

The English word comes via Latin from the Greek. The term is also used metaphorically to refer to the work or skill of a poet, as in Shelley’s “Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is” or Byron’s “I wish to tune my quivering lyre, / To deeds of fame, and notes of fire”.


Name: Gue.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.22.71
Country: Shetland Islands.
Region: Scotland > Western Europe.

Description: The gue is an extinct type of two-stringed bowed lyre or zither from the Shetland Isles. The instrument was described in 1809 by Arthur Edmondston in view of the Ancient and Present State of the Shetland Islands: “Before violins were introduced, the musicians performed on an instrument called a gue. Which appears to have had some similarity to the violin, but had only two strings of horse hair.

The first person to recreate the Shetland gue for modern musicians was instrument maker and musician Corwen Broch of Ancient Music, who began making them in 2007. What he freely admits is a tentative reconstruction made initially for the purposes of experimental music archaeology was based largely on Scandinavian bowed lyre design and the surviving written descriptions as discussed in the works of Otto Andersson.

In 2009 Corwen was commissioned to make a reconstruction for the Shetland Museum. In 2012 luthier Michael J. King asked to use Corwen’s design in a CD Rom of instrument plans. So far all subsequent interpretations of the instrument by other makers draw heavily on Corwen Broch’s initial design.

Citations: Bibliography: Andersson, Otto May, 1959; The Shetland Gue, the Welsh Crwth, and the Northern Bowed Harp The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 12, pp. 102-102 Peter Cooke. The fiddle tradition of the Shetland Isles. CUP Archive, 1986 ISBN 0-521-26855-9, ISBN 978-0-521-26855-4. Pg 4. Peter Cooke. The fiddle tradition of the Shetland Isles. CUP Archive, 1986 ISBN 0-521-26855-9, ISBN 978-0-521-26855-4. Pg 5. Kate & Corwen – Ancient Music Instruments ;


Name: Crwth.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.22.71
Tuning: G G / C C / D D
Country: Whales, Great Britain.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The crwth [pronunciation in IPA: /ˈkruːθ/ or /ˈkrʊθ/] also called a crowd or rote, is a bowed lyre, a type of stringed instrument, associated particularly with Welsh music and with medieval folk music of England, now archaic but once widely played in Europe. Four historical examples have survived and are to be found in St. Fagan’s National Museum of History [Cardiff], National Library of Wales [Aberystwyth], Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Etymology: The name crwth is Welsh, derived from a Proto-Celtic noun *krotto- [“round object”] which refers to a swelling or bulging out, a pregnant appearance or a protuberance, and it is speculated that it came to be used for the instrument because of its bulging shape.

Other Celtic words for violin also have meanings referring to rounded appearances. In Gaelic, for example, “cruit” can mean “hump” or “hunch” as well as harp or violin. Like several other English loanwords from Welsh, the name is one of the few words in the English language in which the letter W is used as a vowel.

The traditional English name is crowd [or rote], and the variants crwd, crout and crouth are little-used today. In Medieval Latin it is called the chorus or crotta. The Welsh word crythor means a performer on the crwth.

The Irish word is cruit, although it also was used on occasion to designate certain small harps. The English surnames Crewther, Crowder, Crother and Crowther denote a player of the crowd, as do the Scottish names MacWhirter and MacWhorter.

Tuning: Jones also states that the tuning procedure began by tightening the highest string as much as possible without breaking it, subsequently tuning the others to it in an intervallic manner. Such was not an uncommon practice in the days before standardized pitch and was, in fact, mentioned in other manuals on string instrument playing.

While Jones’s report was widely read and used as the basis of a number of subsequent accounts, and therefore today is often considered to be evidence of a standard tuning, it is more likely that a variety of tunings were experimented with and in some cases employed, as was and still is the case with many other string instruments, particularly those within folk cultures.

A second tuning, reported by William Bingley [A Tour Round North Wales; London: 1800], features the drones tuned in octaves, with the strings over the fingerboard tuned in paired fifths rather than seconds. However this tuning is almost certainly derived from later violin playing and is impractical given that the crwth is equipped with a flat bridge and therefore designed to play all six strings simultaneously.

Construction: The crwth consists of a fairly simple box construction with a flat, fretless fingerboard and six gut strings. Traditionally the soundbox, or resonator, and a surmounting yoke in the shape of an inverted U. Originally they were carved as a single unit from a block of maple or sycamore. The body is carved from soft wood, and the bridge was usually made of cherry or some other fruitwood.

Two sound-holes, or circular openings about an inch to an inch and a quarter in diameter, were cut into the soundboard to allow pulsating air from the soundbox to escape and strengthen the tone. The two G strings run parallel to the fingerboard, but not over it. So those strings were used as fixed-pitch drones which could be plucked by the player’s left thumb. The remaining strings, which were tightened and loosened with metal harp wrest-pins and a tuning key or wrench, were usually bowed with a horsehair and wood bow.

One characteristic feature of the crwth is that one leg of the bridge goes through a sound-hole and rests on the back of the instrument at the bottom of the soundbox. Although it has been conjectured that this is a primitive attempt at a sound post or anima, something the instrument lacks, it is equally likely that it is designed to take some of the downward pressure of the tightened strings off the soundboard. Since that piece is flat, unbraced and usually made of soft wood, it is much weaker than the belly of a violin.

it is equally likely that it is designed to take some of the downward pressure of the tightened strings off the soundboard. Since that piece is flat, unbraced, and usually made of soft wood, it is much weaker than the belly of a violin.

Citation: Bibliography: “A new discovery within an old instrument: was the Welsh crwth unique in possessing two soundboxes?”. St Fagans: National History Museum website. National Museum Wales. 2 April 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2013. “Museum website”. Bought in 1843 by Dr James Kendrick. Warrington Museum & Art Gallery. 2 April 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2013 ; Websites:


Name: Talharpa.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.22.71
Country: Estonia.
Region: Baltic States > North Eastern Europe.

Description: The talharpa also known as a tagelharpa [tail-hair harp] or the stråkharpa [bowed harp] is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation’s Swedish community. It is similar to the Finnish jouhikko and the Welsh crwth.

Citations: Bibliography: Andersson, Otto 1930 The Bowed Harp. Translated and edited by Kathleen Schlesinger. London: New Temple Press ;


Name: Nyatiti.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Yoke.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.2
Tuning: B / A / G# / E / E / D# / B / A
Country: Kenya.
Region: Africa.

Description: The nyatiti is a five to eight stringed plucked lyre from Kenya. It is played by the Luo people of Western Kenya, specifically in the Siaya region south of Kisumu. The nyatiti is usually played alone. Some players have, in the past, been accompanied by a number of male backup singers or chorus.

Though not common, the nyatiti can be accompanied by any number of traditional instruments, including a curved horn called the oporo or tung’, a single-string violin-like instrument called the orutu and percussion. Modern day players will often integrate the instrument in with Western-style guitar, bass, keyboards and drums.

Tuning: The outside strings are the same note at the same pitch, and the middle two are an octave apart. The traditional tuning for the nyatiti is B / A / G# / E / E / D# / B / A. Many modern players use individual tunings to match their particular musical style. The most common playing style uses the thumb and middle finger of both hands, alternating between the two to create a rhythmic and circular musical pattern.

Playing Techniques: Traditionally, players wear a headdress called Kondo, which is fashioned out of goat fur. Dancers sometimes accompany the nyatiti player and wear brightly coloured skirts called Owalo. Younger players often forego the traditional dress, opting for clothes typical of present-day performances.

If the performer sits on a short, shin level chair called the orindi. He or she wears a wrought iron ring called the oduong’o around the big toe of the right foot and the gara, a set of metal bells also on the right leg. With the gara and the oduong’o, the player maintains a constant beat, banging the iron ring on the bottom bar of the nyatiti.

Construction: It is about two to three feet long with a bowl-shaped, carved wood resonator covered in cow skin. Historically, strings were fashioned from cattle tendons, but modern players almost exclusively use nylon and plastic fishing line of various sizes, a move which changed the sound of the nyatiti drastically.

Citations: Bibliography: Eaagleson, Ian M. 2012 – From Thum to Benga International: Continuity and Change in the Music of the Luo of Kenya, 1950-2010 ;