Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

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David Smith
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Feb 11, 2012 11:52 pm

Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by David Smith »

I recently constructed (and attempted to play) a primitive bowed lyre called a "Tagelharpa". The construction couldn't be simpler or more primitive. I haven't tried making homemade horse hair strings yet (I'm using gut) but I did make the horehair bow.
There is an active Tagelharpa community out there, so if you want to hear what one sounds like, just Google Tagelharpa (or other names).
The talharpa, also known as a tagelharpa (tail-hair harp) or the stråkharpa (bowed harp), is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation's Swedish community.[citation needed] It is similar to the Finnish jouhikko and the Welsh crwth. The instrument is still known in Finland. The name talharpa probably comes from tagel - horsehair - from which the strings were made. Historical evidence suggests the instrument goes back to at least the 14th century.
Attachments
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David Smith
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Feb 11, 2012 11:52 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by David Smith »

I forgot to mention, notice the flat bridge, all 3 strings are bowed all the time. The melody is played on 1 or 2 of the strings and the rest are drones.
Here is a video of an excellent player that shows what can be done with this simple instrument of limited range.
https://youtu.be/bPXR2i7trMM

Patrick Woolery
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2021 10:31 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Patrick Woolery »

I love the jouhikko. And Lassi Logren (the musician in your link) is my favorite player. He really shows the versatility of such a limited range. (There are other videos of bowed lyres of one sort or another where the "player" seems to just saw the strings and noodle the same 2-3 notes over and over again. It gets really old really fast.)

First, your instrument is absolutely gorgeous! I'd love to try it! It is so much better than my first jouhikko! (I'm getting ready to make my second, possibly this weekend if I can find the time. My current one is limiting me for a number of reasons that really boil down to not having known what i was doing the first time around.)

Second, some minor clarifications. The talharpa/tagelharpa (I think one is a contraction of the other, but I'm not sure) is slightly different from the jouhikko, though clearly they are variations of the same thing: a bowed lyre. The bridge of a talharpa is, indeed, flat. Tunings reflect the fact that all the strings are bowed together. But the jouhikko actually uses a curved bridge. The center string is played as a drone with one or the other of the two outer strings. So a common tuning scheme is DAE, with the A being a 4th below the D. The scale then is D on the open D string, E on the open string, then fingering the notes up the E string. Older jouhikko music seldom seems to exceed 6 notes (2 open strings, 4 fingers for the other notes).

Modern players have found more versatility in having a larger hand hole, allowing for both higher notes and playing of the A string. My next build will incorporate the larger hand hole to allow for doing just this. And a slightly longer string length. My teacher said he likes about 32-35 cm of VSL. I currently have 30 and some of the notes are a little cramped.

Disclosure: I'm no expert. I am taking lessons in jouhikko. But I'm still very much a beginner. It is a frustrating instrument because it seems so simple, yet it is capable of such subtlety in the hands of a good player. I have a very patient and encouraging teacher, though, so I hope one day to be a much better player!

When I make the next one, I'll take photos to share here.

-Patrick

Patrick Woolery
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2021 10:31 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Patrick Woolery »

If this works, it will be a photo of my first effort.

The instrument is a bit short at 19.5". The bridge ends up low enough my bow brushes my left thigh when I play.

The bow is rather short, too, so long notes are a problem. My teacher suggests that a new bow be the first thing I make for upgrading!

And the hand hole allows access only to the E string, not the center string. Which is fine for now, but will hold me back from some potential with future playing.

I'll be trying to correct all of these things when I build my next.

-Patrick
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first jouhikko
first jouhikko
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Frank Dryer III
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Sep 22, 2021 8:51 am
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Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Frank Dryer III »

David Smith wrote:
Fri Oct 15, 2021 4:14 pm
I recently constructed (and attempted to play) a primitive bowed lyre called a "Tagelharpa". The construction couldn't be simpler or more primitive. I haven't tried making homemade horse hair strings yet (I'm using gut) but I did make the horehair bow.
There is an active Tagelharpa community out there, so if you want to hear what one sounds like, just Google Tagelharpa (or other names).
The talharpa, also known as a tagelharpa (tail-hair harp) or the stråkharpa (bowed harp), is a four-stringed bowed lyre from northern Europe. It was formerly widespread in Scandinavia, but is today played mainly in Estonia, particularly among that nation's Swedish community.[citation needed] It is similar to the Finnish jouhikko and the Welsh crwth. The instrument is still known in Finland. The name talharpa probably comes from tagel - horsehair - from which the strings were made. Historical evidence suggests the instrument goes back to at least the 14th century.
Am I right that it is asian instrument? I mean the origin

Patrick Woolery
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2021 10:31 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Patrick Woolery »

Frank, I’ll preface this by saying I’m not an ethnomusicologist and haven’t done serious study in the roots of this instrument.

I don’t believe it has Asian roots. My understanding is that like the Crwth/crowd, the roots are with the European lyre family. I know I’ve read claims that the bow (for music) was introduced to Europe from contact with what the Middle East, but I really don’t know how true that is. If accurate, the jouhikko and talharpa couldn’t have come into being until there was such cultural exchange. But I don’t believe there is a bowed lyre in Asian musical history that got adapted. I am pretty sure it was a matter of applying a new way of exciting strings to a very old family of instruments.

Patrick

Anthony Wilson
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Dec 09, 2021 11:12 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Anthony Wilson »

I've made a few, my favorite style are two or three string. Very fun to build and play, even I'm not very good at playing them yet.

It keeps saying my pictures are too big for me to post them, or I would put a few up. I'm currently working on a two string in cherry, with a cedar top, and maple fittings.

Anthony Wilson
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Dec 09, 2021 11:12 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Anthony Wilson »

Here we go, I had to do it offsite.

Image

Here's my current build, it's a two string in cherry, with cedar top and maple fittings. I use a violin peg shaver and reamer to make my pegs, and still need to do the final shaping on the heads on them. I use twisted bundles of fine nylon fishing line to make strings, and find it works very well. I also find that fine tuners aren't necessary, and actually hurt the sound due to overall weight. I find getting the tailpiece as light in weight as possible is worth the fuss.

Patrick Woolery
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2021 10:31 pm

Re: Tagelharpa, Jouhikko or Bowed Lyre construction

Post by Patrick Woolery »

Anthony, that's lovely! I really like the simple lines. I also appreciate the use of the pegs made to go with the instrument. Nothing wrong with buying violin pegs, but there's a really nice touch to the instrument with the pegs made for it.

I'm attaching my second effort, which takes into account the issues I identified with my first. Namely, it needs more physical length! The first was 19.5", the second is 24". VSL is 35cm (adding 4 cm). I'm deliberately going for the Karelian styling, though I got the proportions a little different from what I intended. The dangers of leaving my drawings at work and then saying "I'll remember all the important stuff in the shop." Wood is yellow birch with a cedar soundboard. The pegs, tailpiece, and bridge are all made from yellow birch as well. Strings are horsehair. The bow was just whacked out of some poplar I had laying around. It is longer and looser than my first effort and works SO much better. A better instrument makes such a difference in learning how to play.

Your comment about the weight of the fine tuners is timely for me. My teacher and I were discussing this just last night. He mentioned Ilke Heinonen, who will not use them and works to keep his tailpiece light. Heinonen also advocates for having the tailpiece spaced from the bridge by a distance equal to 1/6 the VSL. In the message that my teacher sent me, he quoted Heinonen from a Facebook group (I don't use Facebook), mentioning these things are important to obtaining "the Lassi Logren sound." (Which amuses me because Lassi Logren uses fine tuners on his main instrument.)

Though I do note that my own tailpiece is absolutely massive compared to Logren's. I will have some time over the holiday break and may make a new bridge and tailpiece to try to get closer to the apparently-ideal "Lassi Logren sound."

What tuning do you use for your 2-string bowed lyres, Anthony? And do you have any pictures of bows? Having made only a couple, I'm now very interested in how to do it better. My second is a huge step up, but I know I have a long way to go to get the bow I really want.

-Patrick
Attachments
jouhikko 2.jpg

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