Playing 5-string kantele in Haapavesi style

Outi Linnaranta
Publishing year: 

Antti Rantonen (1877–1961) was given the epithet "the youngest son of Väinämöinen" It was believed that he was the only post-war player of the five-string kantele in Finland. Although this was not entirely true, Antti Rantonen was, nevertheless, a celebrity of his day. The playing technique of the five-string kantele player from Haapavesi is known today as the "Rantonen technique".

This website guides you to the basics of the Haapavesi five-string technique. The site also includes an unpublished repertoire for primary education.

Further information on the technique and repertoire of Rantonen and other five-string players from Haapavesi is available in Väinämöisen nuorimmaiset. Viisikielisellä kanteleella Haapaveden tyyliin (The youngest ones of Väinämöinen. Five-string kantele in Haapavesi style) (Ed. Outi Linnaranta; Department of Folk Music, Sibelius Academy 2002).


Learn the chords first. They have been named on the basis of scale degrees. In C major, for example, the Roman numeral I refers to C major chord, IV to F major chord etc. If you are a beginner at playing five-string kantele, learning chords I, IV and V and alternating between chords and plucking will suffice. It is possible to play the included tunes at the bottom of this page using this method.

The music includes the melody note of the chord (with ordinary note-head) sounding most audibly in the chord. The chord is played by drawing the strings with the right-hand index finger making some or all strings ring. Fingering is indicated by the scale degree symbol on the top of the stave. Unless otherwise indicated, the fingering remains the same.

Play the chord of the first scale degree (indicated by I in the music) by damping string number 2 with the left-hand ring finger and string number 4 with the index finger. Chord I4 is played by lifting up the index finger.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_002_all_512kbs.flv"]

First degree, from above

Play the chord of the second scale degree (indicated by II in the music) by damping string number 1 with the left-hand ring finger, string number 3 with the middle finger and string number 5 with the index finger.

Play the chord of the fifth scale degree (indicated by V in the music) by damping string number 1 with the left-hand ring finger, string number 3 with the middle finger and string number 4 with the index finger. Chord V7 is played by lifting up the index finger from this position; also string number 4 rings. Chord V4 is played by lifting up the ring finger from chord V.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_003_all_512kbs.flv"]

Second and fifth degree, from above

Play the chord of the fourth scale degree (indicated by IV in the music) by damping string number 1 with the left-hand ring finger, string number 3 with the middle finger and string number 4 with the index finger. Chord IV6 is played by lifting up the ring finger. Chord IV9 is played by lifting up the ring finger from chord IV.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_004_all_512kbs.flv"]

Fourth degree, from above

Alternating chords and plucking

The left-hand fingers both damp the tones not belonging to the chord and occasionally pluck melody notes. This usually occurs in chord changes. A combination of alternating chords and plucking makes performance sound interesting despite there being only a few tones. Plucked sound is indicated in the music with X.

In the following video, I will first play the melody by plucking, then by using chords and, finally, by combining these.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_005_all_512kbs.flv"]

Älä itke iliman syytä 1 (Don't cry without a reason), from above

Chords I, IV and V are the basic chords. You may play almost all tunes by using these chords. I will call the rest of the chords (II, V7, V4, IV6 and IV9) additional chords. They can be used to replace the basic chords.

In the following video, I will replace the chords IV and V with additional chords.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_006_all_512kbs.flv"]

Älä itke iliman syytä 2 (Don't cry without a reason) - additional chords, from above

Combinations of the basic and additional chords, plucking and melody allow an endless number of variations of the same tune.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_007_all_512kbs.flv"]


A more skilful player may use different kinds of embellishments in addition to playing chords and plucking. You can make embellishments by delaying the placing of the left-hand fingers in their position and by making the strings ring by drawing the right-hand index finger from the front. Antti Rantonen's performance is full of such embellishments.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_008_all_512kbs.flv"]

Embellishments, from above


Antti Rantonen was a master of folk-style variations. A good example of this is Runosävelmä (Rune tune), which exists in three recorded variations performed by Rantonen. Study the second measure of the phrase in which the changing of chords, alternation of chords and plucking, melodic variations and embellishments make the melody sound different each time. (The measure numbers refer to pp. 26–27 in the book.)

Rune tune

Version 1, measure 2

Version 1, measure 4

Version 1, measure 10

Version 2, measure 2

Version 2, measure 4

In the following video, I will play the above five examples in consecutive order.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_009_all_512kbs.flv"]

Rune tune, from above

Maaherran polska (Governor's polska)

Compare the two versions I play with Antti Rantonen's version of Maaherran polska (Governor's polska). A different angle of view in the video helps you better observe the playing posture and technique.

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_010_all_512kbs.flv"]

Maaherran polska (Governor's polska), from the front

[swf file="etn_eln_004_viisikielisellakan_vid_011_all_512kbs.flv"]

Maaherran polska (Governor's polska), obliquely forward

Easy tunes

Rantonen's technique can be applied to all five-string kantele music. I have gathered some easy rune tunes suitable for primary education, which I have written by applying Antti Rantonen's technique. The music will provide you with guidance to the chords used and the plucked sounds. You can search for new material by using the same method. The lyrics can be chosen on the basis of use. Any text in Kalevala metre will suit.

Tune 1

Tune 2

Tune 3

Tune 4

Tune 5

Tune 6

Tune 7

Tune 8

Tune 9

Tune 10

Tune 11

Tune 12

Tune 13

Tune 14

Tune 15

Tune 16