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9-stringed kankles of northeastern Aukštaitija
String instrument
Other names Kankliai, kunkliai, kunklaliai, kanklos, kanklys, kanklus, kunkl, kankalai[1]
Classification Plucked string instrument, chordophone
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 314.122
(Diatonic lute-type stringed instrument)
Inventor(s) Folk instrument
Related instruments
Kokles, kannel, kantele, gusli

Kanklės (Lithuanian: [ˈkʌŋkles]) is a Lithuanian plucked string instrument (chordophone) belonging to the Baltic box zither family known as the Baltic psaltery along with Latvian kokles, Estonian kannel, Finnish kantele, and Russian gusli.


According to Finnish linguist Eino Nieminen, the name of the instrument, along with most of its neighbouring counterparts (Latvian kokles, Finnish kantele, Estonian kannel and Livonian kāndla), possibly comes from a proto-Baltic form *kantlīs/*kantlēs originally meaning 'the singing tree',[2] ultimately deriving from the Proto-European root *qan- – 'to sing, sound'. However, Lithuanian ethnologist Romualdas Apanavičius believes the possible etymology of the hypothetical original form could be linked with the Proto-European root *gan(dh)- meaning 'a vessel; haft (of a sword)' also linking it with the Russian name gusli.[3]


Kanklės of the Samogitian regional style

Although kanklės vary not only between the regional variations and individually, there are some common characteristic in their construction. The body of the kanklės is constructed of one trapezoidal piece of linden tree, ash tree, oak, maple or black alder, hollowed out to make a cavity. A thin sheet of softwood (usually spruce) is used to make a sounding board, which covers the body.[3] Sound holes, which traditionally take the shape of a stylized flower or star, are cut into the sounding board, allowing sound to project outward.

At the narrowest side of the body, a metal bar is attached to which the strings made of wire or gut are anchored. The opposite ends of the strings are attached to a row of tuning pegs inserted into holes at the opposite side of the body.

Kanklės is usually rested on the player's lap and played with the fingers or a pick made of bone or quill.


Concert kanklės used by a Lithuanian traditional dance troupe "Rasa" along with birbynė

Apanavičius classifies the kanklės into three basic traditional types, although there are variations within each type and some overlap of areas. Each type has its own playing technique.[4]

  • Kanklės of Northeastern Aukštaitians: the simplest and most ancient form. Carved out of a single piece of wood into a boat or coffin shape.
  • Kanklės of Western Aukštaitians and Samogitians: somewhat larger than those of Northeastern Aukštaitija, usually having between eight and twelve strings. They have a flat bottom, and in some cases, the shortest end is carved with the stylized figure of a bird's or fish's tail.
  • Kanklės of Northwestern Samogitians and Suvalkians: usually the most decorated type, and kanklės used in concert performance are most often based on this variety. The most prominent identifying feature is the addition of a carved spiral figure to the point of the instrument's body and sometimes, the rounding of the narrow end of the body. Typically these instruments have between nine and thirteen strings.[4]


  1. ^ Tarnauskaitė-Palubinskienė 2009, p. 477
  2. ^ Williams, Roger, ed. (1993). "The Singing Tree". Insight Guides: Baltic States. APA Publications (HK) Ltd. p. 85. ISBN 978-9624-2118-2-5. Retrieved March 30, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Romualdas Apanavičius. Ancient Lithuanian Kanklės, Institute of Ethnomusic, Vilnius, Lithuania
  4. ^ a b Tarnauskaitė-Palubinskienė 2009, pp. 478–480


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