What is a Crwth?


The harp, the bagpipes, and the fiddle are some of the most well-known traditional instruments in Celtic music. However, there is another instrument that has a long history in Welsh music but is less familiar to many people: the crwth. This unique instrument has a distinctive design and sound, and has played an important role in Welsh music for centuries. In this article, we will explore the history of the crwth, its design and construction, how it is played, and its uses in traditional Welsh music.

What is a Crwth?

The crwth is a stringed instrument that dates back to the medieval period. It is also known as the crowd, rote, or crouth, and is similar in appearance to a small harp or lyre. The crwth has a rich and fascinating history, and has played an important role in traditional Welsh music.

History of the Crwth

The exact origins of the crwth are unclear, but it is believed to have been developed in Wales during the medieval period. The instrument was commonly used by Welsh bards and minstrels, and was known for its distinctive sound and intricate design.

The crwth was also popular in other parts of Europe during the medieval period, and was used in both sacred and secular music. However, as new instruments such as the lute and violin were developed, the popularity of the crwth began to decline, and by the 18th century, it had all but disappeared from most parts of Europe.

In Wales, however, the crwth continued to be used well into the 19th century, and was an important part of traditional Welsh music. In the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in the instrument, and today, there are a small number of musicians who continue to play the crwth and keep its traditions alive.

Design and Construction of the Crwth

The crwth is a small, six-stringed instrument that is played with a bow. It has a rectangular or trapezoidal body, with a flat or slightly arched top and bottom. The soundboard is usually made of spruce or pine, and the back and sides are made of maple or another hardwood.

The six strings of the crwth are divided into two groups: the melody strings and the drone strings. The melody strings are tuned to a specific pitch, while the drone strings are tuned to the same pitch as the lowest melody string.

The crwth also has a number of other distinctive features, including the use of a sound post and a tailpiece. The sound post is a small wooden dowel that is placed inside the instrument, under the soundboard. It helps to transmit the vibrations of the strings to the soundboard, and enhances the instrument’s resonance and tone.

The tailpiece is a small piece of wood or bone that is attached to the bottom of the instrument. It helps to anchor the strings in place and allows for precise tuning.

Playing the Crwth

Playing the crwth requires a unique set of skills and techniques. The musician holds the instrument on their lap, with the body resting against their chest. The strings are played with a small bow, similar to the bow used to play a violin.

The musician uses their left hand to stop the strings and create different pitches, while their right hand holds the bow and produces the sound. Because the crwth has six strings, the musician can play both melody and harmony at the same time, creating a rich and complex sound.

In addition to playing with a bow, the crwth can also be played with the fingers, using a technique called pizzicato. This involves plucking the strings with the fingertips to create a percussive and rhythmic effect.

Uses of the Crwth in Traditional Welsh Music

The crwth has played an important role in traditional Welsh music for centuries. It was commonly used by Welsh bards and minstrels, who would travel from town to town, performing for local audiences.

The crwth was also used in religious music, and was often played in churches and monasteries. It was used to accompany hymns and chants, and was an important part of religious ceremonies and festivals.

In conclusion, the crwth is a fascinating and unique instrument with a rich history and a distinctive sound. While it was once popular throughout Europe, it has largely disappeared from most parts of the continent, except for Wales, where it has remained an important part of traditional Welsh music.

Today, there are a small number of musicians who continue to play the crwth and keep its traditions alive. By doing so, they are preserving an important part of Welsh cultural heritage, and ensuring that this unique and beautiful instrument continues to be enjoyed by future generations. The crwth may not be as well-known as some other instruments, but for those who appreciate its unique qualities, it is a true treasure.

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