Tuning the Nyckelharpa – Melody Strings

Tuning the melody strings! The tuning that I use is CGCA, written on the stave they look like this:

This isn't the only tuning though and there are a lot of people that tune CGDA (in fifths like a viola). On the stave this looks like this:

There is a lot of debate over which tuning to use. I am used to playing with either tuning, my fiddle pitched nyckelharpa (the fiddleharpa) is tuned in fifths like a violin. When you make your choice you need to think about what music you want to play, take each tuning on merit. It's easy to think that as a violinist you should just stick to what is familiar and safe. But there are a lot of benefits of not sticking to safe. So why did I choose the C tuning?

As a half-Swede I wasn't looking to push the boundaries on what I should tune to string. I learnt from Peter Hedlund's DVD and that was in C tuning. Why would I still advocate C tuning?

The timbre: I love the mellow ring to the open C tuning.
I'm a double bass player - so I was never going to say, I should tune in fourths because it's easier.
Contrary to what people have said to me, C tuning opens up more opportunities than it closes.
G major/minor: It allows me to use my little finger on a G and hold it there as a drone or harmony. We play a lot in G major and G minor, so it's a real bonus. Playing G to D - I don't need to move any fingers. We do this a lot.
D major/minor: If I'm playing jigs and reels it means when I drop to the leading note the C, I don't have a string change.
• I can play in any key just as easily. C strings rock.
• Having said all this - it doesn't matter. A tuning is just a tuning. For the times when I really need to be tuned in fifths, it's probably a fiddle tune, written by a fiddler for the fiddle and then I will be using the fiddleharpa!
• Have I ever tuned my nyckelharpa with a D string? Yes - once, I had to as I needed to have a D drone.
But I have also had to tune it Bb, F Bb G and even once Ab, Db, Ab Db
So it's all swings and roundabouts!

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