Tag Archives: Lyres



Name: Tonkori.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Box.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Tunings: A D’ G’ C’ F
Country: Hokkaido Japan & Sakhalin Islands Russian Federation.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The tonkori [トンコリ tonkori] is a plucked string instrument played by the Ainu people of Hokkaidō, northern Japan and Sakhalin. It generally has five strings, which are not stopped or fretted but simply played “open”.

The instrument is believed to have been developed in Sakhalin. By the 1970s the instrument was practically extinct, but is experiencing a revival along with the increased interest in Ainu heritage.



Name: Begena.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Box.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Country: Eritrea & Ethiopia.
Region: Africa.

Description: The begena [in Amharic: በገና begena] or bèguèna is an Eritrean or Ethiopian stringed instrument that is a plucked box lyre. Having ten strings. Oral tradition identifies the the instrument as the Kinnor of Ancient Israel. It was played by King David to soothe King Saul’s nerves and heal him of insomnia.

It was later introduced to Ethiopia by King Menelik I. Its actual origin remains in doubt, though local manuscripts depict the instrument at the beginning of the 15th century [Kimberlin 1978: 13].

Playing Techniques: The begena may also be played using a technique and system called “girf”, wherein a plectrum made of horn or wood is used to pluck the ten strings of the begena. Megabe Sebhat Alemu Aga plays begena both by using his fingertips and girf.

The begena is characterized by a very specific buzzing sound, due to U-shaped leather pieces placed between each string and the bridge. The thong for each string is adjusted up or down along the bridge so that the string, when plucked, repeatedly vibrates against the edge of the bridge.

Usage: Due to the instruments relatively intimate and sacred role in society. The begana is not a common musical instrument to find. Meditation and prayer are very private, personal endeavours, and hearsay suggests that the instrument is played by very few and is a dying art. However, in 1972, the Yared Music School in Addis Ababa began formal instruction in the begena. Since 2004, evening courses are organized and the begena is still played.

Construction: The begena has a total of 10 individual gut strings stretched from the box [body] to where the friction tuning rings are located. The rings are tied together from animal hide. A bridge is underneath the strings and body of the instrument. This bridge is of a particular design allowing for the strings to buzz, when they are played.

Citations: Bibliography: Cynthia Tse Kimberlin, “The Bägänä of Ethiopia.” Ethiopianist Notes 2 [2], 1978, 15-32 ; Stéphanie Weisser. “Music and Emotion. The Ethiopian Lyre Bagana”. Musicae Scientiae 16 [1], March 2012, 3-18 – Discography; Alemu Aga, The Harp of King David. Ethiopiques Vol. 11, 1994. “Éthiopie, les chants de bagana / Ethiopia, bagana songs.” Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire [Ethnographic Museum of Geneva, Switzerland] LXXVIII / VDE 1206, 2006 ; Alemu Aga, Seyoum Mengistu, Admassu Fikre, Tafesse Tesfaye. The Begenna of Elders. The Harp of David in Ethiopia. Laika-Records, 2009 Websites:


Name: Krar.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Yoke.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Country: Ethiopia.
Region: Africa.

Description: The krar is a plucked bowl-lyre that is played by the Azmari’s in Ethiopia. It is tuned to a pentatonic scale. The instruments over all sound is dependant on the musicians techniques which may include plucking single strings, or strumming.

Citations: Discography: Asnakech Worku, Ethiopiques 16: The Lady with the Krar – Buda Musique 822652, 2003: Ethiopie, chants d’amour [Ethiopia, Love Songs]. Fantahun Shewankochew, vocals and krar [compact disc]. INEDIT / Maison des Cultures du Monde W260080, 1998 ;


Name: Kissar.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Yoke.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Country: Egypt, Nubia & Ethiopia.
Region: & North Africa & Horn of Africa

Description: The kissar [also spelled kissir] Gytarah barbaryeh, the ancient Nubian lyre, this musical instrument is still in use in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The 19th-century description of the five string kissar conforms to that of a tanbura. Though it is smaller, about 70 cm in length. Some examples of the kissar from Central Africa are held there, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. They show the use of animal horns and monkey skulls forming the body.

Travellers notes from the 18th to 19th century document a lyre like instrument ‘I saw among the Barbari from Dongola, a sort of … five stringed harp in their language they call kisser, five string tambura of the Arabs C. Niebuhr voyage in Arabia, Amsterdam, 1776] I, 145.

Construction: It consists of a body having instead of the traditional tortoise-shell back, a shallow, round bowl of maple wood the Nubians call “goussa”. The goussa or sound bowl covered with a membrane of goat skin completing the body, in which are three small round sound-holes.

The arms, set through the soundboard at points distant about the third of the diameter from the circumference, have the familiar fan shape. Five gut strings, knotted round the bar and raised from the soundboard by means of a bridge tailpiece similar to that in use on the modern guitar, are plucked by means of a plectrum by the right hand for the melody, while the left hand sometimes twangs some of the strings as a soft drone accompaniment.

Citations: Bibliography: J. B. De La Borde: Essai sur la musique ancienne et modern [Paris, 1780 / R1972] i, 382 ; Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music Volume Two, G-O Pages 437 ; Chisholm, Hugh, ed. 1911. “Kissar”. Encyclopedia Britannica. 15 [11th ed.]. Cambridge University Press. p. 837 ;


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: 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 ;


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: 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 ;


Name: Simsimiyya.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Tuning: D” C” Bb’ A’ G’
Country: Many.
Region: Middle East & North Africa.

Description: The simsimiyya [semsemiyya or sumsumiyya] a bowl or box lyre with five single strings. It is found in Egypt, from the Suez area to Sinai, Saudi Arabia and South-Yemen where this instrument has six strings. The name for this instrument is uncertain, there are numerous regional interpretations. One classical reference is of help; the word “samsama” means to ‘run with agility’. The vernacular use of the words semsemiyya or sumsumiyya in the area of the canal, during the 20th century.

The complex instrument represents a between the begena of Ethiopia and the tanbura [found in Somalia]. In South Yemen the Simsimiyya has a circular sound box. Two arms protrude from the main circular body where they are affixed to left and right sides. The strings are held taught in support from the yoke and frame. Originally wooden tuning pegs are used although it is common to see machine gear tuners mounted.

Construction: The simsimiyya is constructed like the begenna of Ethiopia. Although the body of the instrument is circular rather than box like. Usually they have five strings, although in South Yemen there is a six-stringed instrument sharing the same name. The strings are tied from the yoke to the frame by material, which may include animal hide or machine gear tuners to keep the strings in tune. A bridge is inserted underneath the string. The body made from a wooden centre like a bowl and hide is stretched over and held together in place by lacing.

Citations: Bibliography: M. Aqili Al-Sama, Ind Al’ Arab [arab music], Damascus 1966 p. 79 iii, 90 ; M. Aqili Al-Sama, Ind Al’ Arab [arab music], ‘Ilm al-alit al musiqiyya / the study of musical instruments Cairo, 1971; A. Siloah: The Simsimiyya – A stringed instrument of the Red Sea, Asian Music iv/1 1972 ; T. Alexandru: De La Kissar la semsemssiya traditie si inovatie în muzica organologie muzicologie studio [in Romanian]; tradition and innovation in musicology musicology studio studio [in English] Bucharest, 1980 Christian Poché ; Websites:


Name: Rababa.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Country: Eritrea.
Region: Africa.

Description: The rababa is a bowl lyre with five or occasionally six strings of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. The instrument is also known in Congo DRC. [former Zaire] and Uganda as rababah or rapapa. This bowl lyre may have a bridge or without a bridge. And very small sound holes recalling those of the Ethiopian krar but sometimes with eight strings, no bridge and a single sound hole.

It is played by the Bari people of Congo DRC. The same instrument is called “tum” by the Bari who live in neighbouring Sudan. This supports the belief the rababa, tum and tanbura are one and the same instrument. At Omdurman [Sudan] the six-string rababa lyre turns out, what is to be called “tambura worship”.

The rababa is used in songs that sing praise the cattle among the pastoral people like the Beni Amer of Sudan or Eritrea. It is linked with the five-stringed goala lyre of the Hamar people in South Ethiopia. It is also played for secular repertoire, including entertainment and serenades.

Construction: The rababa is akin to the tambura in its construction. Although it is much smaller in size. It has a hemispherical sound box, that is covered with cow or antelope hide or in Congo DRC. lizard skin. Two extended arms are fixed to the hemispherical sound box. The animal hide or skin is applied after. A cross-bar supports the strings intact and keeping them in tension when tuned.

Citations: Bibliography: Laurenty, C 121: Wachsmann TCU, 405 ; E. Chantre: Recherches anthropologiques en Egypt Lyons, 1904, 236 ; E. Littman: Publications of the Princeton Expedition to Abyssinia Leiden, 1910 , 197 ; S. Chauvet: Musique Négre Paris, 1929 ; W. T. Clark: Manners, Customs and Beliefs of the Northern Bega, Sudan Notes and Records, xx/I 1938, 25 ; A. Paul: Notes on the Beni Amer, Sudan Notes and Records, xxxi 1950, 239 ; S. Zendovsky: Zar and tambura as practiced by the women of Omdurman, Sudan Notes and Records, xxx/I 1950, 65 ;