What is a Nyckelharpa?

The nyckelharpa is the official traditional folk instrument of Sweden. “Nyckel” is Swedish for “key” and “harpa” is a stringed musical instrument, so this is a stringed instrument with keys. If you look at the old church paintings, this is apparently one of the instruments that the angels used to play to make heavenly music. It is traditionally held across the front of your body similar to a guitar and played with a bow. The modern Swedish chromatic nyckelharpa has 4 primary strings that are played, 3 of which have keys to change the pitch. The 4th string is a drone. There are also 12 sympathetic strings that are tuned to the different notes of the chromatic scale. The keys are pressed up from the bottom and have a small wood post on the top of each key that comes in contact with the bowed strings. These posts shorten the string length to produce different notes along the strings that have keys. While you play, the sympathetic strings resonate along with the various notes to fill out the sound in a very beautiful way. The range of the instrument is about the same as the upper register of a viola. It is hard to describe the sound, but there are numerous YouTube videos available.

(Page last updated on 6/30/2016)