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1991 Soviet postage stamp depicting a kokle among other traditional Latvian instruments
Song played on the kokle

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The kokle (or kuōkle) is a Latvian plucked string musical instrument (chordophone), of the zither family. It is similar in construction and origin to the Lithuanian kanklės, Russian gusli, Estonian kannel and Finnish kantele.


The first written information about kokle players is from the 15th century.[citation needed] The Baltic tribes developed the kokle based on similar zithers played by the Finnic and Slavic peoples of the region. Legendarily, the strings of the kokle were said to represent the sun.[1] A kokle at the Historical Museum in Riga shows Latvian runes.[2]


The kokle has a hollow trapezoidal body, topped with a thin wooden soundboard. Wooden tuning pegs are set into the wide tip of the body, while at the narrow tip is a metal rod upon which the strings are secured. The strings may be of gut, plant fibres, brass, or steel. Traditionally, there were 6-9 strings[3] which later increased to 10.


The player generally plays the instrument sitting at a table, strumming with his right hand and muting unwanted strings with his left hand. The kokle is generally tuned in a diatonic scale, with some lower strings functioning as bourdons (drones) which continuously sound.[3]


Kokle player in Riga

Kurzemes kokle[edit]

In the Latvian historical region of Kurzeme, kokles are constructed without a "wing", but with ornate carving and ornaments.

Latgales kokle[edit]

In the largely Catholic Latgale region of Latvia, the kokle has a wing, which reinforces the sound and is used as an arm support. Compared with Kurzemes kokles, the finish is less thorough; the instruments are bigger, and heavier, with more sober decoration.

The Augšzeme and Vidzeme districts of Latvia played both types of kokle, as well as mixed forms, for example kokles with beak-shaped wings.

At the end of the nineteenth century kokle traditions were influenced by the construction of the Western zither. Thus arose the so-called zither kokles: kokles with larger, zither-type cases, steel tuning pins, and an increased number of strings.

Concert kokle[edit]

A larger "concert kokle" with a wider range of notes has been developed,[4] and some of these have devices to change the pitches of strings in order to change keys.

In modern music[edit]

Alliage III by the Danish composer Niels Rosing-Schow[5] uses two kokles tuned a quarter-tone apart along with violin, cello, and accordion.

The Kokle is demonstrated as a folk instrument by the Latvian National Kokle collective Teiksma, Koklētāju Ansambļiem (The Legends Harpers Ensemble) performing in Latvia and at Latviešu dziesmu svētki, 'Latvian song festival' held in the nations of the Lativan diaspora.[6] The Teiksma folk musicians are associated with the Folk Music Department of the Latvian Academy of Music titled Latvijas Mūzikas akadēmijā in Latvian. Founded by Tamara Jansone in 1955, the Latvian national Kokle ensemble played its 50th anniversary concert in 2005 and is headed by Teiksma Jansone, the school is located in Kronvalds Boulevard 8, Riga.[7][8][9]

An Australia-based Latvian folk music group, Zigrīda Ansamblis uses the kokle in their performances.[10]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Simon Broughton (1994). World music: the rough guide. Rough Guides. ISBN 978-1-85828-017-2. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  2. ^ Arvids Ziedonis (1968). The religious philosophy of Janis Rainis, Latvian poet. Latvju Grāmata. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Benchmark Books; Marshall Cavendish (1 October 2002). Peoples of Europe. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 279–. ISBN 978-0-7614-7378-7. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Ian Peddie (31 August 2011). Popular Music and Human Rights: World Music. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 82–. ISBN 978-0-7546-6853-4. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  5. ^ published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen (WH21231)
  6. ^ "Koklētāju ansamblim "Teiksma" jauns albums - TvNet". 
  7. ^ "Teiksma". 
  8. ^ "Latvia celebrates national instrument". 
  9. ^ "TEIKSMA". 
  10. ^ "Brisbane ensemble explores musical heritage". latviansonline.com. 2004-12-21. Retrieved 2011-07-20.