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Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden



Henna Tahvanainen, Henri Penttinen, Vesa Valimaki Jyrki Polkki

Department of Signal Processing and Acoustics Soitinrakentajat AMF
School of Electrical Engineering Tuikkalantie 2
Aalto University Leppavirta


In this paper, a plucked string instrument called the kantele

is modelled with the finite element method. The aim is
to compare two traditional body structures and a modified
body structure in terms of vibrational modes and radiation
efficiency. The two traditional body structures are the closed
box kantele and the top-plate kantele. In the modified struc-
ture, the top plate and the back plate are separated with an
air gap. The modified structure has more vibrational modes
than the traditional body structures, because it incorporates Figure 1. The modified kantele with the air gaps indicated.
a freely vibrating top plate coupled with enclosed air. The
simulations show that when the air gap is between 1-3 mm, plates together. In addition to the two traditional kanteles, a
the radiation efficiency of the modified kantele is higher kantele with a freely-vibrating top plate isolated from the
than that of the traditional kanteles. This result supports back plate with an air gap has been developed [3, 4]. It is
previous research that concluded the modified kantele to be called the modified kantele and it is shown in Fig. 1.
louder than the traditional top-plate kantele. The kantele with its complex shape, enclosing and sur-
rounded by air, represents a coupled structure-acoustic prob-
lem. To tackle such problems, wave-based modelling meth-
ods, such as finite element, boundary element, and finite
The kantele is a zither-like plucked string instrument. There difference methods, have been used extensively in string in-
are 16 peoples in North East Europe and West Siberia that strument acoustics [5, 6]. Other numerical methods include
play this kind of a zither. Consequently, instruments with the fictitious domain method applied to the guitar [7].
various string arrangements and terminations, as well as The finite element method (FEM) is particularly suitable
shapes and sizes of the sound box belong to the kantele fam- for complicated shapes, especially when the eigenfrequen-
ily. The various kanteles are currently being documented in cies of the solid domain and enclosed air are comparable
The Kindred of Kantele- project 1 . in frequency. Of the family of string instruments, FEM has
The common parts for all the kanteles include a wooden been applied successfully at least to the guitar [813], violin
sound box, metal or nylon strings, and tuning pins made [1416], and piano [1720]. The early models considered
of metal or wood. The amount of strings varies from 5 to mainly the instrument soundboards in the low frequency re-
40. In addition, there may be a sound hole. The common gion [6], or instrument-shaped air-cavities [16]. In addition,
acoustical feature for the kanteles is the special fluctuating different stages of construction were simulated [9,15]. More
timbre caused by the knotting of string around the non-rigid recently, FEM has been applied to structure-acoustic cou-
tuning pins [1, 2]. Initially, the kantele was carved from a pling in string instruments [1012, 14]. Both enclosed and
single piece of wood with no back plate. Later, the carved surrounding air add to the mass of the instrument and thus
kantele was turned into a box by adding a soundboard to lower the eigenfrequencies of the string instrument [10, 14].
the carving. These two structures are henceforth referred The mode shapes, on the other hand, are much less affected.
to as the top-plate kantele and the box kantele, respectively. This paper aims at extending the understanding of the
Nowadays, the kantele is assembled by glueing wooden contribution of the isolated top plate to the increased loud-
1 ness of the modified kantele by using FEM. The vibrational
kindred-of-kantele-overview-in-english/ modes and sound radiation of three kantele structures are
studied: closed box kantele, top-plate kantele, and modified
Copyright: 2013
c Henna Tahvanainen, Henri Penttinen, Vesa Valimaki et kantele. Additionally, the radiation efficiency for each kan-
al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the tele structure is computed. Moreover, the effect of size of
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, which permits unrestricted the air gap in the modified kantele is investigated.
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author This paper is organised as follows. In Sec. 2, the back-
and source are credited. ground of the modified kantele is described. In Sec. 3, the

Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

finite element method is briefly reviewed. Section 4 de-

Excitation point
scribes the FE-model of the kantele and the results of the Connecting
simulations are presented in Sec. 5. Section 6 concludes the blocks
Originally, the kantele was used as a rune-accompaniment
in small farm houses. Nowadays, it is played in various
ensembles in large spaces. Consequently, it is beneficial
to develop an acoustically louder version. A kantele with
improved sound radiation was presented at SMAC 2003 by
Polkki et al [3]. The idea for this modified kantele came
from old museum copies with no back plate. Interestingly,
these seemed to sound louder in a soft-padded case rather Figure 2. The top plate and the back plate of the kantele
than on lap where they are usually played. Based on these for the FE-model. The top-plate kantele considers the top
observations, in 1999 Polkki began experimenting with plate only, the box kantele is obtained by attaching the
different lightweight wooden structures, which would do plates together, so that the side edges are fixed. In the
the same. The first prototypes with 11, 15, and 19 strings modified kantele, the plates are attached together with the
were made. Adjusting the air gap between the plates was a three connecting blocks allowing an air gap between the
delicate process in order to obtain a favourable timbre. In plates.
addition, the larger kanteles benefited from a small sound
hole in the gap. Based on the prototypes, it was clear that
the displacement at nodal points of the respective domain
changes in the top plate were needed if the strong attack
(subscript s for structure, f for fluid). Hsf is the coupling
and the long decay of the characteristic kantele sound were
matrix between the two domains. At the structure-acoustic
to be preserved. Consequently, the top plate was made three
boundary, two conditions for the coupling apply. Firstly, the
times thicker and strengthened around the tuning pins.
particle velocity perpendicular to the boundary should be
The collaboration between Polkki and Penttinen lead to
continuous. Secondly, the air exerts a load on the structure,
verified design rules for the kantele with improved sound
which is equal to the inverse of the air pressure. Finally,
loudness [4]. The rules are 1) increasing string tension, 2)
when modelling the sound radiation of an instrument in the
increasing radiating surface area, and 3) isolating the top
free field, the calculations are often limited over a finite vol-
plate from the back plate with an air gap. In addition, it was
ume. In order to avoid artificial reflections, the boundaries
confirmed by listening tests that this modified design was
are modelled as so called radiating boundaries, or using
on average 3 dB louder than the top-plate kantele. In the
a technique called Perfectly Matched Layer (PML). The
meanwhile, the modified design has been fine-tuned and
numerically more accurate boundary condition, PML, is
sold commercially for 12 years. The commercial version,
an additional medium surrounding the computational do-
Kirjokansi, is shown in Fig. 1. The top plate and the back
main that matches the domain and absorbs all the incoming
plate are attached together with three screws. The kantele
radiation in all angles with no reflections [23].
has 11+4 strings spanning the fundamental frequency range
of 73-588 Hz. The four lowest strings are used as drones. 4. SIMULATIONS
Finally, the isolating air gap has lately been applied to the
40-string kantele, and based on informal listening tests after In this paper, three kantele structures were considered: the
fine-tuning, it now sounds warm and rich in bass. top-plate kantele, the box kantele, and the modified kantele
with air gaps of several sizes (1 mm, 3 mm, 5 mm, 7 mm).
Both eigenfrequency and forced vibration analysis were
conducted using an existing finite element software (Com-
In FEM, the continuous domain is discretised into a finite sol Multiphysics) in order to study the vibrational modes
set of solid elements, which each are approximated with and the radiation of the kantele, respectively. The modelling
simple shape functions such as polynomials [21]. The con- steps taken are described in the following.
tinuous field, such as the pressure, is then evaluated at the
vertices of each element called nodes. At least six elements 1. Importing/drawing the geometry
per bending wavelength are required in order to ensure In these simulations, strings, tuning pins, and bars
sufficient accuracy of the simulation [22]. For structure- parallel to the top plate were omitted. The back plate
acoustic vibrations, the equations of motion translate into was modelled flat. The three plastic screws were
the following matrix substituted with wood blocks. The top plate and the
back plate of the modelled kantele can be seen in

Ms 0 ds
Ds 0 ds
Ks H sf

Fb Fig. 2. In addition, the kantele was surrounded by air
+ + = (r = 0.7 m).
H Tsf Mf pf 0 Df pf 0 Kf pf Fq
(1) 2. Defining material properties
where M , D, K, and F , are the global matrices of mass, The kantele was assumed to be made out of one or-
damping, stiffness, force, and p and d are the pressure and thotropic material, spruce. The material properties

Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

Parameter Symbol Value Unit SPL at 0.7 m above the kantele

Ex 122 [108 Pa] 110
Elastic moduli Ey 15.6
Ez 7.20 100
Gxy 15.1 [108 Pa]
Shear moduli Gyz 1.22 90

Magnitude [dB]
Gxz 14.6
xy 0.42 [1] 80
Poisson ratios yz 0.53
xz 0.46
Density s 440 [kgm3 ]
Isotropic loss factor 0.01 [1]
Driving force amplitude A 1.5 [N] 60
Air density 0 1.2 [kgm3 ] 50 modified
Speed of sound in air c0 343 [ms1 ] top plate
100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450 500 550
Frequency [Hz]

Table 1. Parameter values inserted in the FE-model, the

Figure 3. The sound pressure level at 0.7 m above the
material values are obtained from [24].
kantele for three different kantele structures: box kantele
obtained from Kretschmann [24] and other parame- (dash-dotted red line), modified kantele (solid black line)
ters are listed in Tab. 1. and top-plate kantele (dashed blue line).
3. Defining boundary conditions
The air was surrounded by a PML (r = 0.8 m). The the increased loudness of the modified kantele compared to
two structure-acoustic boundary conditions accord- the traditional top-plate kantele.
ing to Sec. 2 were applied. The mode density for the modified kantele is higher than
4. Meshing for the two traditional kanteles because the modified kantele
The chosen element size was limited by computa- has a freely vibrating top plate and the air enclosed by the
tional capacity. Tetrahedral elements were used, with two plates which can couple to the plate vibrations. An
the size range of 1.5-10 cm. Such meshing resulted example of this case is illustrated in Fig. 4. Figure 4a shows
to 60 000-200 000 elements depending on the kantele the first two normal mode shapes of the top-plate kantele
structure. Thus, the simulated frequency range was (at 150 Hz and 195 Hz), Fig. 4b the first significant normal
limited to 570 Hz, which covers the tuning range of mode of the box kantele (at 295 Hz), and Fig. 4c the first
the kantele strings. three normal modes of the modified kantele (at 125 Hz,
185 Hz, and 230 Hz). The color legend indicates the total
These four steps are enough to perform an eigenfrequency displacement in millimeters. The values above and below
analysis. In order to study radiation, the following addi- the legend are the maximum and minimum values for the
tional steps for the forced oscillation analysis are required: displacement. It can be seen that shapes of the first two top
plate modes correspond to the shapes of the first two normal
5. Damping coefficient modes of the modified kantele. The frequencies of these
The internal damping of the wood material was con- modes have lowered; from 150 Hz to 125 Hz, and from 195
sidered isotropic and frequency-independent for sim- Hz to 185 Hz. In addition, the vibration amplitudes (total
plicity. displacement) are smaller for the modified kantele than for
6. Type and location of the force the top-plate kantele. In particular, the ponsi vibrates less.
The kantele was driven sinusoidally by approximat- The back plate has a solid ponsi (see Fig. 1), which is fixed
ing the area and the location of the fifth tuning pin to the top plate.
indicated in Fig. 2. Similarly, the shape of the first significant normal mode
7. Frequency steps at which the analysis is performed of the box kantele corresponds to the shape of the third
The frequency step was 5 Hz due to limited computa- normal mode of the modified kantele. The mode frequency
tional time. has changed from 295 Hz to 230 Hz. The only difference
between these two shapes is that in the modified kantele
5. RESULTS the free edge also has a vibration maximum. In addition,
the Helmholtz resonance (found to be at 230 Hz) and the
5.1 Comparison of the kantele structures
back plate participate in the vibration. For this mode, the
The modelled frequency responses of the three kantele struc- vibration amplitude is higher for the modified kantele than
tures at 0.7 m above the top plate are shown in Fig. 3. Based for the box kantele.
on the figure, the structures differ at least in overall sound Figure 5 shows the corresponding sound pressure levels
pressure level, mode density, and mode frequencies. The for the mode shapes in Fig. 4; the first two normal modes
box kantele has a lower sound pressure level than the top- of the top-plate kantele are shown in Fig. 5a, the first sig-
plate and the modified kantele, except at regions around nificant normal mode of the box kantele in Fig. 5b, and the
295 Hz and 555 Hz. The modal density between 70-570 first three normal modes of the modified kantele in Fig. 5c.
Hz is 8, 9 and 11 for the box, top-plate, and modified kan- The colour legend indicates the sound pressure level in dB
tele, respectively. It is desirable to have many modes in the units. The values above and below the legend are the max-
tuning range of strings for better sound quality and sound imum and minimum values for the sound pressure level,
pressure level [25]. This is one of the factors that explain respectively. It can be seen that the radiation of the modi-

Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

a) Top-plate kantele c) Modified kantele a) Top-plate kantele c) Modified kantele

Total displacement (mm) Total displacement (mm) Sound Pressure Level (dB) Sound Pressure Level (dB)

150 Hz 125 Hz

150 Hz 125 Hz

195 Hz 185 Hz

b) Box kantele
Total displacement (mm) 195 Hz 185 Hz

295 Hz 230 Hz b) Box kantele

Sound Pressure Level (dB)

Figure 4. An example of how the modified kantele includes

normal modes of both the top-plate kantele and the box kan- 295 Hz 230 Hz
tele in terms of total displacement: a) the first two normal
modes of the top-plate kantele, in b) the first normal mode
Figure 5. An example of how the modified kantele includes
of the box kantele, and c) the first three normal modes of
normal modes of both the top-plate kantele and the box
the modified kantele. The mode shapes that are on the same
kantele in terms of sound pressure levels: a) the first two
row correspond to one another.
normal modes of the top-plate kantele, in b) the first normal
fied kantele at these three modes is more omnidirectional mode of the box kantele, and c) the first three normal modes
than for the traditional kanteles. The top-plate kantele has a of the modified kantele. The mode shapes that are on the
higher maximum sound pressure level, but at some direc- same row correspond to one another. The kantele soundhole
tions on the sides, the sound pressure level is small. This is is facing the reader.
a demonstration of the acoustic short-circuit. Namely, the
SPL at 0.7 m above the kantele
air displaced by the top plate is in opposite phase on the 110
top and at the back on the plate. These anti-phasic regions
partially cancel each other, and thus reduce sound radiation. 100

Magnitude [dB]

5.2 Effect of the air gap size

The size of the air gap in the modified kantele can be
changed. It is of interest to study how the size affects 70

the vibrational and radiation properties of the kantele. In-

deed, already a small air gap between the top and back 1 mm
3 mm
plate changes the frequency response. Figure 6 shows the 50
7 mm
modelled frequency responses for the kantele with different 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450 500 550
Frequency [Hz]
air gaps: 1 mm, 3 mm, and 7 mm.
Based on Fig. 6, two different frequency ranges for the
Figure 6. The frequency responses at 0.7 metres above the
changes can be distinguished. First of all, below 300 Hz the
kantele with different air gaps: 1 mm (dashed blue line), 3
mode density does not change, but the mode frequencies
mm (solid red line), and 7 mm (dash-dotted black line).
increase when the size of the air gap increases. The mode
shapes do not change, but their vibration amplitudes do. As the size of the air gap increases, the free edge of the
Secondly, above 300 Hz, the mode density decreases when top plate is able to vibrate more freely. What is more, the
the size of the air gaps increases. In addition, the modes vibration maxima move closer to the edges and the back
shapes do not appear in the same order in frequency. plate is less coupled with the top plate. An example of a

Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

Back plate Sound pressure level (dB) Pressure (Pa)

Top plate

Airgap 3 mm
Airgap 3 mm
Total displacement (mm)

285 Hz

Airgap 5 mm
285 Hz
Airgap 5 mm

290 Hz

Airgap 7 mm
290 Hz
Airgap 7 mm

290 Hz

Figure 8. The sound pressure level and pressure of the sixth

290 Hz normal modes on the modified kantele with an air gap of 3
mm, 5 mm, and 7 mm. The sound pressure level is shown
on the left-hand column and the pressure on the right-hand
Figure 7. Vibration amplitudes of the sixth normal mode column.
of the modified kantele with an air gap of 3 mm, 5 mm, and
7 mm. In the left-hand column the kantele is seen from the 5.3 Radiation efficiency
top and in the right-hand column from the bottom.
The modified kantele has a higher mode density than the
traditional kanteles. The simulations show that the vibra-
mode that undergoes such a change is the sixth normal mode tion maxima and sound pressure level decrease when the
of the modified kantele, occurring at 285 Hz. It experiences size of the air gap increases, at least for some modes. For
a drop of 15 dB in sound pressure level when the size of the entire frequency range, the average radiation efficiency
the air gaps increases for 1 mm to 7 mm. In addition, its describes how effective the different structures actually are
frequency shifts from 285 Hz to 290 Hz. This mode shape in transmitting input energy to radiation [26]. The aver-
is shown in Fig. 7 for different sizes of air gaps: 3 mm, 5 aged radiation efficiencies obtained via simulations for the
mm, and 7 mm. The case with the 1-mm air gap is almost modified kantele with different air gaps and the traditional
identical to the 3-mm air gap. In the left column, the kantele kantele structures are shown in Tab. 2. The radiation effi-
is seen from above and in the right column from the bottom. ciency is at its maximum with the 3-mm air gap. Beyond
The corresponding sound pressure level and pressure fields that, the radiation efficiency becomes comparable to that of
are shown in Fig. 8. the box kantele. The top-plate kantele has the lowest radia-
tion efficiency of all the structures studied. It also exhibits
With the increasing air gap size, several phenomena occur. more directional radiation patterns.
Firstly, the coupling of the top and the back plate decreases.
Air gap box 1 mm 3 mm 5 mm 7 mm top-plate
In Fig. 8, the back plate vibrates with the shape (2,0) and 0.0159 0.0242 0.0281 0.0128 0.0083 0.0008
its vibration amplitude decreases with the increase of the
air gap. Furthermore, the widths of the vibration maxima Table 2. Radiation efficiency of the kantele with different
decrease. At the free edge, the vibration maximum moves air gaps, and the traditional box and top-plate kanteles.
towards the corner that is the least fixed. In addition, the
radiation patterns become more directive since the widths
of vibration maxima decrease. Finally, different air modes
couple with the body. At 285 Hz, the air vibrates with the In this paper, the body of a string instrument called the
mode shape (2,0) for 3-mm and 5-mm air gaps, and with kantele has been simulated with the finite element method.
the mode shape (1,0) for the 7-mm air gap. Both the eigenfrequency analysis and forced vibration anal-

Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 2013, SMAC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden

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