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an Estonian folk instrument, its age reaches probably a
couple of thousands years. There is no information about the exact
origins of the instrument. Initially the kannel had 5...6 strings.
Gradually the instrument grew bigger and in the 20th century it turned
into a chromatic concert-instrument with a range covering approximately
The kannel-like instruments - Estonian kannel, Latvian kokle, Finnish kantele, Lithuanian kankles - are
having different range, construction principles and mechanism for
producing the half-tones. The biggest peculiarity of the Estonian
chromatic kannel is that for every note corresponds its own string (the
other types of kannel have a bit harp-like mechanical system for
the strings). Thus it does not have any remarkable constrictions to use
all the chromatical pitches on the Estonian kannel.
The strings are placed under a slight angle so that on the right side
of the instrument the strings of the “white” notes
are a little bit
higher, on the left side vice versa. In the middle of the instrument
strings are approximately on the same level. The strings are made of
A - a3
The kannel is played in a horisontal position. In performance fingers
of the both hands are equally
the 5th fingers are almost not used because of their weakness.
up to 8-voiced chords and arpeggios can be played on the kannel. Slower
arpeggios can be also longer - the hands can be lifted over each other
for several times. The biggest interval between the 1st and 4th finger
is generally the 10th.
The playing technique of the kannel can be compared in many aspects
with the harp - both instruments are plucked with the soft pad of the
fingers, both use the same technical possibilities like flageolettes,
arpeggios, glissandos. The kannel sounds more metallic, the harp
In the respect of sound, maybe the closest instruments to the kannel
the medieval psalterium and german-austrian zither.
The articulations are used on the kannel are similar to other
musical instruments: legato,
staccato, lasciare vibrare etc.
Peculiar to the kannel is its long sound. Therefore the dampening plays
a crucial roll in the playing technique (especially in the classical
music). The contemporary music is often making use of the long sound on
purpose and the notes are let ring until their natural dying out. The
staccato of the kannel is remarkably sharper than harp’s.
It is possible to be play glissandi
in both directions (up or down) either diatonically or chromatically. Glissandi drawn
with the fingernail
produce sharper and more penetrating, with fingerpad - milder sounds.
It is possible to play slides or the “real” glissandi on one
string moving some
metal object along the string. Also sliding melodies, reminiscing a
little bit the Hawaii guitar, can be played.
The most used and loudest are the octave-flageolettes.
Usually it is
written, from which note the flageolet
is played, not what actually sounds.
An interesting and gentle timbre is produced, when the string is
lightly covered with the other hand. It is usually marked with a small
cross (+) under or above the note. This kind of sound can be played
on separate long or slow notes.
plucking from the end of
Usually the sound is the most projecting and healthy when the
instrument is plucked from the middle of the strings. If to pluck close
to the rim of the string, it will produce a nasal, dry and faster
colour, reminiscing a little bit the harpsichord.
Strong accents can be given to single notes when plucked only with the
... means hitting the strings with the palm or the side of the hand. It
results in a cluster with rather vague pitch.
sliding on a bass string
Sliding a finger or fingernail along a low, wire-coated string produces
a special swishing, hissing or whistling sound with an indefinite pitch.
knocks on the instrument
... make all the strings sound.
using a bow
... is possible only on the two lower and two upper strings.
The strings can be “prepared” placing wire,
paper-clips, coins, paper
etc. between the strings. It gives considerable timbral possibilities
but the sound loses much of its projection.
The kannel is a relatively soft instrument. It is far not so powerful
as most of the classical instruments. However, its piano is versatile
and rich of nuances.
The different octaves of the kannel have
different dynamical possibilities. Since the 2nd octave upwards it is
difficult to make the relatively shorter strings sound really forte.
best forte can be achieved around the 1st octave.