Arts of Piekūns

  1. In this section - what is a kokle; what are the usual tunings for a kokle; string sizes; what you need to consider before ordering/buying a kokle; how to change a string or a peg?

  2. What is a kokle?

    Archeological find from 13th century

    In an expressive and beautiful way, only Maris Muktupavels knows how to write, here's an insight on what is this musical instrument and what is its history: 


    Kokle is the most admired Latvian musical instrument today. Kokles are associated with the oldest, most studied tradition playing styles, but also with great innovation and creativity. There are grounds for believing that kokle playing was ritualistic by nature, and the instrument has some symbolic elements that associate it with mourning the dead and perceptions about the journeys of souls. Mythologically, the kokle is associated with  the singing, "soul-inhabited" tree (the kokle was traditionally carved of wood). Mythologically, kokle, or "the golden kokle" is associated with the heavenly spheres and occupies the highest point in the hierarchy of instruments. People's memory holds a perception that "the kokle is from God". Modern kokle is a widely used and noted part of folk music heritage, a symbol of the spirit of folk singing. Although similar tools are known throughout Eastern Europe, from Prussian lands to Central Finland and Karelia, it has not discouraged the perception that the kokle expresses the unique Latvian identity.

    Kokle tradition is believed to be more than two thousand years old. The oldest Latvian archaeological discovery related to the kokle comes from the 13th. century, the first written testimony from the early 17th century, but the oldest physical instrument - the so-called Cours lute, held at the Latvian National History Museum, goes back to the year 1710 (that year is carved on the bottom), when it became the property of Bokums family from Kurzeme.

    Testimonies about kokle music are more recent: the first known tune was notated in 1891, but the first recordings and motion picture soundtracks are from the 1930s. The currently popular Kurzeme kokle repertoire consists of instrumental pieces, called "Dances", and song accompaniment. In Latgale the kokle repertoire includes songs and dance tunes along with an accompaniment of holy (spiritual) songs.

    At the turn of the century, Latvian traditions of kokle playing were mostly lost and ancient instruments could be heard only in certain places in Kurzeme and Latgale. The revival is associated with the folklore movement of the 1970s and 1980s turned the spotlight onto the most ancient instruments untouched by modernization, including the kokle. Its known repertoire, as well as the living kokle playing tradition, as saved, for instance, by the Suiti kokle player John Poriķis, provided the basis for the renewal of this tradition. No less important to its revival were the musical possibilities the instrument presented. Above all, the kokle is an instrument that allows for great freedom. It can produce a gentle, sweet sound, but may also be disturbing and vehement. The number of kokle strings is just right, about the count of fingers of both hands. The basic number of tones is just as large, but they can be colored in many ways. Also kokle strings are considered free, because, unlike other stringed instruments - violins, guitars - the sound is not dampened by a bridge, which would directly connect them to the resonator. The kokle is a soulful instrument. It opens up best in silence, when the only listener is the player. The kokle responds to a variety of moods, it can express both excitement and melancholy. Kokle harmonics, consisting of less than a dozen tones limits and directs the range of feelings, excluding excess and helping to focus on one particular emotion.

    Valdis Muktupāvels 

    Taken from <>

    Also check out <Wikipedia> article for more detailed info and references.

  3. A variety of different kokle tunings

    Courtesy of Olivier Daumillare. 

    (For more pictures scroll right)

    In Latvia the most popular one is GA-Bb tuning, so in other sections of this webpage all tutorials and chord tabs are presented in this tuning.

  4. Kokle string gauges in milimeters and inches

    Courtesy of Olivier Daumillare

    These are the most comonly used sizes in mm and inches, but they may differ amongst kokles made by different kokle makers. 

    Usually when ordering a kokle, you must ask for a spare set of strings (and pegs), but you can also order them in ebay from sets of piano strings if you know the gauges. 

  5. What do I need to know before I'm ordering or buying a new kokle?

    Firstly - "I want to play, but I don't know what kind of kokle I need". Usually the masters can explain to you and lead you in the right way, but it's always nice to know beforehand, what exactly you want to order. 

    Normally, if you haven't played any instrument before and you know little about music, or if your budget for the instrumet is small and you're not sure if you'll be able to learn it as good as you'd wish, but you're motivated to buy a kokle and to learn how to play it anyway, you can start with something cheaper and smaller, like a 9 or 10 string Kurzemes kokle. 

    Kurzemes kokle is a type of Latvian kokle, that doesn't have a wing, like in this picture (from a site <press here>. It is thought to be a bit more quiet and at times slightly cheaper than Latgales kokle. You can see a Latgales kokle here <press here>. Having said that, there is normally a small difference in the price, but if you need to move it around a lot, Kurzemes kokle is usually lighter and smaller, so that also is an advantage.

    Kokles, made by the many craftsmen in Latvia, differ in shapes, depths, materials used, the size of the gap between the strings and the deck etc. So it would be strongly recommended to visit several masters and choose your kokle by touch and sound. For my kokle friends around the world it is usually not possible, so, as I said, if you're a complete beginner and the budget is small, then go for the 9-10 string Kurzemes kokle, which normally goes for 150-250 euros (plus shipping). But check the prices with the kokle craftsmen as they differ between them and and also they change with time. 

    If you're looking to get the most out of it and you have long term plans on kokle, you might want to invest a bit more and buy a Latgales kokle. Again - the price difference is not usually that big. It's still around 200-300 euros for a standard acoustic kokle (plus shipping), but the chances are you'll have a longer sound on it, it might be a bit louder and the wing is also good for resting your left elbow on it, while playing. 

    If you know more about acoustic instruments and/or kokles, you can customize the order by considering these things, before contacting the kokle masters: 

    - the wood used for the kokle and the deck (will afect the timbre and the weight)

    - the length, depth and width of the kokle (will afect the weight as well)

    - the size and the shape of the acoustic body (usually the bigger, the louder) 

    - the size and the shape of the sound holes (also (usually the bigger, the louder)

    - the material of the tuning pegs - wooden (my preference for the sound on acoustic kokles) or metal (easier to tune, usually the timbre is a bit more metallic, but best for electric kokles)

    - the size of the gap between the strings (the bigger, the easier to pluck, but harder to strum fast - depends on the style you want to play in)

    - the size of the gap between the string and the deck (normally, the higher, the louder the kokle sounds) 

    - the thickness of the strings (normally the thicker, the louder and more bass it will have, but might not work well for the high notes). 


  6. How to change a peg?

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