Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The nyckelharpa

My dad called me a little while ago to tip me that a show on KLRN was going to have a "nickel harp" performance. Unfortunately, the show is on 9.2, and although I do have a digital-capable TV, I don't have a regular antenna to hook up to it right now and we don't get any of the extra digital channels via DishNetwork. So I went a-hunting.

It turns out he was not saying the word correctly: nyckelharpa. I had never heard of this instrument before but it is a very old instrument of Swedish origin in the violin family and could very roughly be described as a cross between a violin and a hurdy-gurdy. Click the above link for Wikipedia entry or just check out the video below.


  1. The sound reminds me of the "hardanger fiddle" that is played as part of the Rohan theme in the LotR films.

    Watching this video led me onto a search of early instruments on YouTube, where "peabcom" has posted several short, informative videos.

    Perhaps you could answer a couple of musical questions: what is that musical instrument (a reed of some sort, I think) always played in Middle Eastern style music (I always think of it as a snake-charmer's flute)? And what is that old instrument that is played like a guitar but is ground by a handle at the bottom? Is that a primitive hurdy-gurdy?

  2. The hurdy-gurdy is a keyed instrument like the nyckelharpa but is played by a crank handle instead of a bow. It's closer in size to a violin than a guitar. I've never seen a cranked instrument that's played like a guitar.

    I had to look up the snake charmer's instrument. Here's the Wikipedia link.


  3. After working with Swedish machinery, I can easily believe they would invent a more complicated way to build and play a plain old fiddle. ;)

  4. It does make a ghostly, beautiful sound, though.