147th ASA Meeting, New York, NY

[ Lay Language Paper Index | Press Room ]

The Acoustics of Historic Carved Baltic Psaltery

Andres Peekna -
Innovative Mechanics, Inc.
5908 North River Bay Road
Waterford, WI 53185-3035

Thomas D. Rossing -
Physics Department
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Popular version of paper 4pMU6
Presented Thursday afternoon, May 27, 2004
147th ASA Meeting, New York, NY

The Baltic psaltery ia a plucked-string instrument, and is known in Finland as kantele, in Estonia as kannel, in Latvia as kokle, in Lithuania as kankles, and in northwestern Russia as wing-shaped gusli. In its archaic form, it had a limited range, 5 to 13 strings, usually tuned diatonically, though the lower strings were sometimes tuned as bourdons, several tones lower than the other strings. The soundbox was hollowed from a single block of wood to which the wooden soundboard was attached. Because of its mode of construction, the archaic form is called the carved Baltic psaltery. No two instruments were exactly alike.
During the 19th century, the archaic Baltic psaltery was replaced by larger instruments influenced by central European zithers having much greater tonal range. Starting in the middle of the 20th century, however, the archaic carved version enjoyed a healthy revival. Three carved Baltic psalteries in this study are shown in the photograph below.

Vibrational modes of several historic Baltic psaltery have been recorded by means of holographic interferometry. Several vibrational modes of a six-string kannel constructed by the first author, along with the tunings of the six strings, are shown in the figure below. The pictures shown are, in effect, contour maps of the changing elevations of the vibrating soundboard.
The vertical bars at the arrowheads are rough measures of the width of each peak at half the power level of the peak.

The experiments on the instruments reported in this paper suggest that a successful carved Baltic psaltery should have a maximum number of resonances (modes) with its tuning range, with good coupling between the strings and the soundbox. The experiments also suggest that a successful instrument should have a strong resonance between its keynote and the tone above.

[ Lay Language Paper Index | Press Room ]