Lithuanian Folk Instruments

Canadians of Lithuanian heritage often use hand-made traditional folk instruments to accompany choral and folk dance ensembles.

Lithuanian folk music originated from pagan and later, Christian ritual. Since earliest times, the primary occupation of Lithuanians was agriculture. Most customs, traditions and even daily habits were linked to nature and its forces. People’s livelihood depended on seeing divinity in nature and performing rituals to appease the gods in order to ensure bountiful harvests. These beliefs formed the basis for folk music. Their instruments were made from natural materials such as wood, cow horn, tree bark and branches.

Lithuania’s folk instruments are quite similar to those of its Baltic neighbours, Latvia and Estonia. They also bear some resemblance to those of Slavic and Germanic peoples and can be classified into 4 groups: string, wind, percussion and idiophonic (vibrates when struck, shaken or scraped).

One instrument unique to the Baltic lands is a board zither with 5-12 iron or natural fibre strings. Its history can be traced back at least 3,000 years and its Baltic names have originated from the Baltic word “kantles” meaning “the singing tree”. It is believed to be the instrument of the gods and the fine, deeply touching tone quality has made kankles, the symbol of national music for Lithuanians.

Music using folk instruments is enjoying a resurgence in Lithuania with new interpretations producing ethereal sounds.