I posted this video of a 5 part Hornpipe, which I wrote for a friend, over on the Mandolin Group's thread, as I also play, Mandolin, Tenor Guitar & Banjo on this track.

However, I actually composed it on my Nyckelharpa & as I have since received a couple of questions about it, I thought I should perhaps start a discussion, in case anyone else might be interested in it.

For general info. check good old Wiki:


If you'd like to see close up, how these beasties work, check out this video:

Bach on a Nyckelharpahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs3aUCM8BX8

Here's a video of Scottish Trad tunes I put together, featuring my Nyckelharpa:

Air, March, Strathspey & Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjNMQAsL4UE

To see Scots Trad being played on one, check out Gavin's video:

Gavin Pennycook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=227Knbzvhyo

However, there is growing interest in these Keyed Fiddles & both the UK & America now have sites you can visit, to learn more:

UK Nyckelharpa Societyhttp://s399774740.websitehome.co.uk/wordpress/


American Nyckelharpa Associationhttp://www.nyckelharpa.org/

Unlike the Bouzouki being introduced to Irish Trad from another tradition, I don't imagine we will see the Nyckelharpa working too well in Irish Trad, as the whole point of these Fiddles, is really the fact that they have 12 Sympathetic strings which hum in the background to give that characteristic sound and as this is lost, when you play them alongside other instruments, I don't reckon they make the perfect Session instrument. Also, they are strung & pitched a bit like a Viola, so it would be a bit of challenge.

You'll get an idea of how the effect is lost with other instruments in this video of a Carolan tune:

Charles O'Connorhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTUh3KRi5mE

For this reason, I try & include solo Harpa in my videos now, as in this one, which I wrote with a wee Swedish flavour to it:

Causeway Sunsetshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFZWy-Nsgtk

Also, here's an Irish style 5 part Hornpipe I wrote on my Harpa ~

 The Trip to Cultra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV5bbj1G1bE 

I only know of two other Nyckelharpa in ireland, Dublin & Donegal, so if anyone knows of any others, I'd really like to hear about them.



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Hiya Dick,

I've been in love these Swedish instruments ever since I first found them on utube. I've also been following one of our fellow members here - Peter "Puma" Hedlund. I met him via utube as well initially and he very kindly sent me some dots for some of his own compositions. He's well worth checking out on here and on utube. He's doing a lot of Swedish / Irish cross over stuff that is well worth a listen.

I will freely admit that I know nothing about Swedish trad, but they seem to have some great Polka's to which the Nyckelharpa seems particularly suited. I bet they suit Irish Polka's just as well !! I am very envious that you have managed to get your hands on one - but it would probably be too much like hard work for me. Lovelly sound though Dick, I look forward to hearing much more from you on this "new toy".



Well, Dick...

The traditional way of tuning a nyckelharpa is NOT like viola. It sounds quite different with the viola tuning, and in my opinion not better. But it's up to the player of course. Tuning it the "proper" ( ;-) ) way, A C G C, makes the traditional Swedish tunes sound the way they are "supposed" to as they often are played in C, G and F. The open C helps and makes it sound quite different compared to a viola. And I think it works just fine in Irish, Scottish and Shetlandic tunes as well.

I have been playing Irish music for over two decades now (I'm not very good at it but it's great fun) and in my experience it works just as well as any fiddle in sessions, on stage and everywhere else. The effect lost? Once again, in my opinion, it's not. But maybe that's just me...? ;-)

There are a couple of videos with me playing some Irish tunes here on Tradconnect, together with Leo Rickard and Raphy Doyle (Navan, 2007 I think). Feel free to check it out, I think the "Nyckelharpa effect" is still there...


Peter Puma

Hi Peter,

Good to hear from you.

There's actually a tradition, in Ireland, of assimilating unusual instruments into the tradition & changing the tuning to suit. They did this with the Greek Bouzouki, changing the original tuning from DAD. They also did it with the American Tenor Banjo, changing the tuning from CGDA to GDAE. No doubt there are other examples.

In fact, the Greek Bouzouki was in fact a 3 course instrument, but for Irish Music an extra pair of strings has been added & the round back has been lost, in favour of a flat back.

I have absolutely no idea how Greek musicians feel about these changes to their instrument, but I'm pretty sure they, like you, will much prefer the original Greek instrument.

However, down through history, I'm sure it has been common for instruments to be modified & far from being wrong, I feel it is a fairly natural process & as long as the original tradition is healthy & strong, with a good tune base & plenty of enthusiastic players, there's no danger that the modified instrument will take over.

After all, the Greek Bouzouki & the American 5 String Banjo are still alive and well & perhaps it could be argued that they are even healthier, from the added interest created in them, by the addition of the modified examples.

Changing the tuning to play Irish & Scottish Music does not, of course, make the instrument sound any better, it just makes it so much easier for Fiddle, Tenor Banjo & Mandolin players to quickly learn to play their favourite tunes with the same finger patterns & using the same familiar double stops.

As for playing with other instruments, yes, if you are playing with just one or two other musicians the Nyckelharpa's resonant effects are still heard, but so much of the Irish Music culture involves 6, 8, or more musicians playing in the corner of a noisy Pub & whereas the character of many instruments is fit to handle this, I feel it can be argued that most if not all of the resonant effect will probably be lost in such situations. In which case, you might just as well be playing a Viola.

That's not to say that there will also be many quieter sessions, where it would fit in very nicely. I only take quieter instruments like my Tenor Guitar & Hammered Dulcimer out to quieter sessions, where I know they will fit in better & I will be doing likewise with my Nyckelharpa. So I'm certainly not saying that there is no place for the Nyckelharpa over here, just that players would perhaps need to choose their sessions with a little more discretion. ;-)




Sessions not suited to the nyckelharpa.  That couldn't be further from the truth!  The sympathetic strings serve two purposes. Yes, they give you a lovely ethereal sound, but just like with the drone on the bagpipes (and I mean all types not just GHB) they amplify the melody strings giving the nyckelharpa a real punch.  (The instrument does of course need to be in tune for this to work).  I use my nyckelharpa in conditions where my pipes are too quiet by far and the sound I create is large enough to cut across a room of 100+ drunken loud revellers. 

I personally have a real bee in my bonnet about people tuning an instrument because it's easier to learn.  The nyckelharpa is quite different from the fiddle, if you try to use violin bow hold you lose a lot of power in the instrument and just tuning it like a fiddle on exacerbates this.  As I usually say - I'm a double bass player, but I wouldn't ever think of tuning the harpa in fourths because it's easier.  What fiddle tuned people seem to miss is that if you're tuned with a C - you can play fiddlers tunes. If you play with a D - then it makes life really hard to play a lot of current nyckelharpa rep.  

This is a discussion that is set to run and run though, but until someone can come up with an argument that is better than 'it's easier to play it tuned like a fiddle' I'll not be persuaded!  

Hi Vicki,

Good to hear from you.

Having looked through dozens & dozens of Nyckelharpa videos on YouTube, I find that they all portray the instrument in solo or duet situations, or in groups of only Nyckelharpas, often in controlled concert situations, where you can still clearly hear it.

I'd love to hear how it sounds though in a typical Session situation, where you have its resonant strings competing with those of Guitars & Bouzoukis, alongside Melodeons & Pipes etc.. Then I might be convinced that the effect isn't lost. 

If there are YouTubes that demonstrate this, then yes, I'd love to see them, but I can't help wondering why videos with Nyckelharpas in such situations are so scarce, or maybe I just need to look harder for them.

You say it makes life really hard, if you tune the C to a D, to play the current Nyckelharpa rep., but my point is, like the Greek Bouzouki & the American Banjo, Irish musicians don't play Greek or American tunes, nor, I suspect, would they be particularly interested in playing Swedish tunes. So that question just would not arise, that is why D is probably the most appropriate option, over here.

Of course, once I get a better handle on my own Harpa, I hope to be able to take it for a test drive in a local noisy session & see for myself, first hand, if it works & can compete, or not. ;-)




You opened this discussion with saying "...they are strung & pitched a bit like a Viola...". They aren't. This is not a fact, but presented like one. I am very open to "changes" in nyckelharpa repertoire, different tunings, other traditions. But, as above, present it as "facts", or in a way that can be perceived as a fact, isn't fair. Insecure players may think THEY are wrong when they actually are, in a traditional perspective, more "right".

There's nothing new in your reply above (sorry), nothing I wasn't aware of before.  You seem to think I haven't played sessions before? I have. Sessions (in Ireland and elsewhere, and I'm very aware of how it works in Irish sessions) with 2 people, 5 people, 17 people, 50 people, pick a number... And it still works. Good nyckelharpas (I've owned about 30 this far, still have my first (got it about 1970, borrowed one before that) and my two last ones) sounds good and rings even in a big crowd. I know this (it's actually a fact) because I've done it, seen it and heard others do it for well over 40 years.

I must ask: How many nyckelharpas have you heard played in sessions? What experiences do you base this opinion on? Maybe I'm wrong, but as far as I've understood from Facebook (Nyckelharpa UK) you're fairly new to this instrument?

Nyckelharpas made by different makers sound very very different. I know who built your instrument, Olle and I go way back, and his 'harpas doesn't sound anything like my 'harpas... Some like his "sound" (more viola-like sometimes), others like the sound I have (more fiddle) in my instruments. Once again, it's up to the musician.


You're comparing it to a viola and that's quite OK. Where I come from, traditional Nyckelharpa country, it's more often seen as any other fiddle, just ringing a little more. Fiddle (violin), not viola. Tuning it like viola doesn't help a bit.



Ps. I agree fully with Vicki's reply above.


I would think the reason you can't find a session with nyckelharpa on YouTube could be that it's no use, the sound is just like a blurry picture? I wouldn't dream of uploading a session myself for that reason alone.

But next time I'm over to Ireland I'll see if I can arrange it.

Hi Peter,

In Vicki's video, Nyckelharpa Basics, she describes & demonstrates how to use the basic tuning, which is actually to the A G & C of the Viola, but tuning the D of the Viola to C. That is why I decried it as "a bit like a Viola", but perhaps there's another way of looking at it.

I am of course well aware that there are other ways to tune them.

However, describing it as close to Viola tuning, I feel, best describes the pitch of this instrument for Irish readers, most of whom, have never actually come across this instrument before, certainly not in the flesh. So to describe it as having Fiddle tuning, to Irish musicians, would I think be very misleading. After all, Fiddle strings gauges are around: .010, .026, .033, .031. I suspect those gauges might just be a little thin for a Harpa.

As for my approach to this discussion, I confess I am playing devils advocate, but I feel that's OK in order to get a debate going & help create a bit of interest in this instrument over here .... ( seems to be working too ;-) ).

As for my expertise, I don't claim to be anything other than a complete beginner on this instrument, so it's from that angle that I started this discussion. However I do believe that even as a beginner, I am still entitled to an opinion, especially having nearly 40 years of experience playing Irish Music. After all I am not trying to deceive anyone here, just throwing my opinions out there to see how they differ from others.

I think perhaps we may be seeing the same thing, but just from two completely different angles, me from an Irish perspective & you from a Swedish one.

If you know of any videos that demonstrate clearly how a Nyckelharpa does fit in, blend but does not lose its finer qualities in a massed instrument situation, I'd be very grateful if you could post links here. I'm sure they'd help to settle that side of this discussion & I'm sure I'm not the only person here who'd enjoy watching them.




of course every one is entitled to an opinion. Me too... ;-) And I have played Irish (and Swedish) music enough in Ireland and elsewhere to have an opinion there too. I actually think I can see both the Swedish AND the Irish view in this.

Who described it as "having fiddle tuning"? I wrote that it's more often compared to a fiddle in Sweden than a viola. That's all, I'm talking about how the sound and the instrument is perceived, the pitch if you will. To describe the tuning as "close to a viola" is correct, but the sound of it is a little different... I would think my 'harpa has much more overtones than yours, but that's of course just a guess.

Of course you're not trying to deceive anyone, but unfortunately you are when you write, as it is a fact, that it is tuned (a bit) like a viola, see what I wrote above about insecure beginners.

I don't know of any videos on YouTube that shows how well nyckelharpa, or ANY OTHER INSTRUMENT, "fits in, blend but does not lose its finer qualities in a massed instrument situation". In a session?! I am sure you know, Dick, as well as I do, that in a session, filmed with a mobile phone or something, from a distance, with a hundred drunk people talking, shouting, cheering... That doesn't exist... You need to be there.




Dick - I describe it as bottom viola C, bottom violin G, then C then A.  I am describing where in the pitch range we are talking.  It is a bottom viola C, it is a bottom violin G. I am not saying it is a viola, just that those are the notes.  I also talk very tongue in cheek about 'other tunings available', because I don't want to irritate people who don't use standard traditional tuning, but I think the humour is a little Swedish and loses something in translation.  (Just trying not to be miss quoted in this conversation).

Hi Peter,

Yes, you have the advantage over me when it comes to Swedish Music, given that I know nothing about it.

However, I'm really not sure what your point is on the tuning issue Peter.

After all, I wrote earlier that:

"they are strung & pitched a bit like a Viola"


Then you wrote:

"To describe the tuning as "close to a viola" is correct"

So surely, that is saying exactly the same thing, but with slightly different words?

Therefore, I really don't see how you can think I'm trying to deceive anyone here, when we clearly both describe the pitch in the same way.

As for Vicki's description of the notes. The fact is, in her video she tunes her C, G & A strings at exactly the same pitch as the Viola ~ see Online Viola Tuner

The other string she tunes down to a C, while I keep mine the same as the tuner at D, so I really don't think I'm being unreasonable, when I suggest that they are often ~ strung & pitched a bit like a Viola.


As for the sessions & videos, I've found that YouTube videos can often reflect the real life playing situations of instruments, so although you'll hear instruments to their best advantage, when portrayed in small group situations, most instruments are played ensemble fashion in Ireland, so that is why there are so many session videos.

Sometimes, we are guilty of taking things for granted & assume that sessions are the same in other countries. So perhaps you can enlighten us on the session format in Sweden? For example, is it the case that most Nyckelharpa players regularly meet up with players of other instruments for informal sessions & if so, what other instruments would they regularly be heard playing alongside?

I know in Scotland, most Fiddle players meet up in Pub sessions & play along with loads of different instruments, but there are also many Fiddle players who just prefer to play with other Fiddle players, e.g. in Fiddle Orchestras & Strathspey & Reel Societies, so I'm wondering if lots of Harpa players prefer to play with just other Harpas & if that is the case, is there a reason why?

If on the other hand, Harpas are part of a culture of mixed instrument sessions in Sweden, I find it a little odd that there are no videos of such gatherings. I know such videos may not always, or indeed ever, demonstrate the best music, but they can & often do help to portray the informality & magic of the fun that can be had at such gatherings, so I think they do serve a useful purpose.



P.S. When you next head to Ireland for a session, please let me know if you find yourself heading towards any of the Northern counties. :-)

Dick - I don't tune it like a viola, I tune it standard traditional nyckelharpa tuning, CGCA. Please don't mis-quote me.

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