Swedish Musical Instrument Nyckelharpa

Man playing the Nyckelharpa

Music & Arts

Swedish Musical Instrument Nyckelharpa

Most instruments have a singular action or process to make sound. Guitars use strings. Trumpets have keys. Trombones have a sliding part that creates sound at various intervals. But the nyckelharpa has strings which are rubbed with a bow and has keys that are manipulated by the player’s fingers to also strike the strings. Pretty cool, huh?

The nyckelharpa also is known as the Swedish key fiddle and is a popular instrument used in traditional Swedish folk music. According to the American Nyckelharpa Association (ANA), a nonprofit that preserves and fosters the instrument, the instrument has evolved over the past 600 years. Today, there are at least four variations – a rarity for folk instruments.

Some of the earliest imagery of what looks like the nyckelharpa dates to the 1300s in Gotland, Sweden. Other appearances of the instrument popped up in art and text across Europe over the next couple of centuries. The ANA explains the instrument’s history in greater detail, digging through each iteration: from the Enkelharpa of the 1600s to today’s Modern Chromatic Nyckelharpa.

Today, the instrument still is used by many popular Swedish folk artists, including Väsen, a group of Swedish musicians who just wrapped up a U.S. tour. This stringed-instrument trio melds the sounds of the nyckelharpa, the viola and the guitar to give a modern twist to a traditional sound.

Another musician who uses the instrument is Griselda Sanderson, who grew up and studied the Swedish instrument in Scotland, but has develop a following of her own for her talents.

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