The aim of JOS instruments is to provide instruments and adaptations to overcome the barriers that many people encounter when using conventional music instruments.
The Brief: As well as being inclusive, accessible and great sounding, the aim was to produce a portable and lightweight design which would also be durable and reliable. It would be low cost (£30 – £50), and easily constructed from readily available components.
The Tradition: The JOS Krar is derived from an ancient tradition of stringed instruments, a simple frame and resonating body with strings stretched across – the family of harps and lyres. The lineage comes from Africa – Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya, with variations spreading through Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, Rome and throughout Europe, reaching as far as the Welsh ‘Crowth’ and Celtic Harps. Traditionally these instruments were made from materials available at the time. The earliest probably featured a gourd as resonator and a single string hunter’s bow – still around today. Gradually more strings were added, and a hollowed out wooden resonator and the frame developed, and a skin used as a ‘soundboard’.
The JOS Krar combines elements from these variations but, crucially, utilises materials that are commonly available today: ready-made drums and hardware fittings, and standard timber supplies. Our design uses a small drum as a soundboard like a banjo. We have settled on 6 strings – though variations are possible.
DIY! – Make one yourself – we have created a guide to making the Krar which you can download here. With just some minimal preparation – drilling and cutting wooden components, for example – the instrument makes a great classroom project.
Musical Applications – The Krar configuration was selected as it enables play in a variety of settings: meditational, rhythmic, melodic and chordal, and suits solo play, accompaniment and group work. The absence of the need to form notes on a fretboard or neck, like a guitar or violin, means it is very accessible.
JOS Workshop Playing Examples
During trials in our regular workshops, it was clear that the JOS Krar can be accessed in a variety of ways. Various orientations work well for sitting or standing:
– A vertical position, played with one hand and held with the other in the manner ot the Krar, or with two hands on either side of the strings like the Nyatiti
– A horizontal position either on the player’s lap or supported with a strap or on a stand with both hands on the same side – more like the litungu style. Other people use a harp orientation or have it like a guitar
– The JOS Krar can be played with fingers or thumbs, can be strummed with fingers or plectra, or plucked.
– It will give, for example, chords and arpeggios – so bass line, rhythm chords and melody are all possible.
– It is also amenable to the string blocking technique use on Krar or Autoharp.