Finland has its own national instrument, the kantele. The national epic contains two poems relating the origin of the kantele. Väinämöinen, the wizard-hero, created the kantele and also excelled in performing on the instrument. Väinämöinen made his first kantele out of fish bones, specifically the jawbone of a pike; his second kantele was made of birch wood. The strings were of animal tail hairs or the hair of young maidens. Everyone tried to play the first kantele, but only its creator could play it so that all creation was enchanted...







Some studies date the kantele at 1,000 years, while others — based on loanwords and poetry sources — posit a history of 2,000 to 3,000 years. At the moment, no theory enjoys precedence. Literary references to the kantele only exist from the 16th century onwards, and precise descriptions date from no earlier than the 18th century. It was not until the 19th century that the kantele was elevated into a national symbol of Finnish culture.

In any case, the kantele has been one of the Finns' most important instruments for hundreds of years in the current millennium. Related instruments exist among other peoples living around the Baltic Sea, such as the Karelians (kantele), Latvians (kokle), Lithuanians (kankles) and Estonians (kannel). Recently, the connection of the Russian gusli instrument family with the emergence or development of the kantele has been discussed.

The earliest models of the kantele were hollowed out of a single piece of wood, from the top or the bottom, with a separate lid fitted. These kanteles usually had five strings, enough to perform runo singing with. From the 18th century onwards, the largest hollowed-out kanteles had eight to twelve strings, sometimes even more.

Originally, the strings were made by twining horsehair; later, copper and steel strings were used. The kantele was played by plucking with the fingers, producing an endless flow of improvised and varied music.

In the 1950s, only a few musicians using the five-string kantele remained in Finland. However, the instrument made a decisive comeback in the early 1980s, with the eventual introduction of the five-string kantele as a school instrument.

The bowed lyre jouhikko or jouhikantele came to Finland from Scandinavia in the Middle Ages. Similar instruments exist in Central Europe (including the Anglo-Saxon lyre chrotta and the Welsh bowed crwth). The jouhikko fell into disuse in western Finland in the 17th century, but in Savo and Karelia it enjoyed limited use up to the beginning of this century.

The jouhikko has two to four horsehair strings and is played with a bow. At least one of the strings provides a continuous drone. The fingering is interesting: notes are produced by pressing the knuckles of the fingers against the melody string.

A.O. Väisänen rescued both the hollowed-out kantele and the jouhikko for posterity. His book Kantele- ja jouhikkosävelmiä (Tunes for the kantele and jouhikko, 1928) contains the majority of samples of music that have been preserved.

Although the sound of the jouhikko is soft (in both senses of the word), the recorded tunes are rhythmic and fast. As with the kantele, the music played on the jouhikko was based on improvisation and constant variation.

Wind instruments are as old as man himself. The overtone flute without fingerholes was used by ancient Finns in prehistoric times. There is an abundance of old horns and pipes in Finland and Karelia; at least 120 different types have been recorded. The instruments were made of whatever material was available: bone, horn, wood, birch bark or even reeds.

Cowherds continued to use traditional wind instruments well into this century, for both business and pleasure. The village cowherd used his instruments to convey messages, frighten predators and alleviate loneliness. A few percussion instruments used as deterrents also existed. Horns were also used for broadcasting war, fire and prayer. Many wind instruments were used in children's games.

Folk wind instruments can be divided into three groups according to their sound production. Flutes are played by blowing into a hole so that the air flow breaking across the lip of the hole vibrates the air inside the instrument. In clarinets, the sound is produced by a reed (or tongue). With horns, the sound is produced by the player's lips vibrating.

The jew's harp is one of the world's most ubiquitous instruments. The earliest archaeological finds in Central Europe date from before Christ. The earliest data on Finnish variants, märistysrauta, are from the late Middle Ages.

Although the jew's harp enjoyed a brief period of distinction as a concert instrument in the 18th and 19th centuries in Germany and Austria, it has mostly been used in folk music. It is associated with sinful life, magic and superstition. Occultists drew upon its magical powers. Even in Finland, it was an instrument for the poor, and for beggars, tramps and children.

A jew's harp is played by placing the frame against the teeth and plucking the tongue with the fingers. The metal tongue produces a drone over which an overtone series can be generated by varying the shape of the mouth cavity. The sound can be amplified using various breathing techniques.
http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/folkmus4.html (Scroll down for more interesting links )

Indeed, national instrument and i dont know anyone who could actually play it Last time i saw a kantale, it must have been on the first or second grade at school, so approx 10 years ago... sad