The kantele is the Finnish national stringed instrument.
Originating from the Baltic Sea area several Mediterranean countries have a variation of the zither-type instrument in form and name. In Russia a gusli; Lithuania a kankle; Estonia a kannel; Latvia a kokle. Traveling farther away from the Baltic Sea, you have similar instruments from Mongolia (the yatga) and China (the quin).
Kanteles vary in the number of strings they have from five to 36 or more. When first learning the kantele, I highly recommend a 5 string. This keeps things simple and within one’s grasp. A simple kantele of five strings can be tuned in a variety of ways — from the first five notes of a diatonic scale to the five notes of a pentatonic scale.
The strings can be plucked like a harp, strummed like a ukulele, hammered like a hammered dulcimer and played with a bow like a lyre. Tunings on the kantele are varied depending on the string sizes that are put on the kantele. When I began playing the Native American style flute, I thought five notes would be limiting. But after learning to play spontaneously (read improvise), I found the five note scale inspiring not limiting. So with the 5-string kantele.
The sopranino kantele ( a small version of the five-string) is my favorite of the kanteles. First, it practically fits in the palm of your hand. Second, it is a very meditative instrument. Pluck random strings or not. The high pitched strings are surprisingly soothing and can lead down a path farther from the madding crowd. Third, I have a penchant for small instruments because they can be carried in a backpack, in a purse, on a bike, in a car … and well, I won’t go on sounding like Dr. Suess. To that end, pursuing
the portable yet playable has led me to experiment and create gourdeleles, travel ukuleles, tiny Native American style flutes and now, the sopranino kantele. Below you can hear the 5-string kantele and a sopranino playing. Both are tuned in D major with the first five notes of the scale: A, G, F#, E, D.
One example of how the Native American style flute might sound with the kanteles.
When you purchase a kantele, you will receive instructions on how to tune and play it. You can read more on the kantele page.
You may want to listen to this MySpace page. It is in a language I don’t read, but you will understand the beautiful kantele music polished with reverb and echo on a 36 or more stringed kantele. http://www.pinterest.com/digitaljr/kantele-kokle-gusli-zithers-yatga-quin/