Music Theory

Ethiopian Kignits

Ethiopian songs are based on five-note scales called kignits.

There are many different kignits and these have regional variations in their tuning all over Ethiopia

Ambassel, Tezita, Anchihoye and Bati are the four main kignits and the basis of many popular songs.

Note that while these kignits can be represented on a piano keyboard they will not sound exactly the same. This is because Ethiopian music uses a different system of tuning (pure temperament) than the Western equal temperament.

Some modern synthesizers allow the modification of temperament and this allows a closer approximation to the true sound of the Ethiopian kignits.

A Brief Explanation of Temperament

Introduction to Temperament.pdf

Listen to Ethiopian Kignits

Click the numbers to hear variations of the main ethiopian kignits. The dots indicate representative notes on a C major scale in pure temperament.

Tuning Your Instrument

The traditional and recommended way to tune the krar or begena is by ear. Listen to songs by accomplished players and intimately learn the melody. Then attempt to play the melody on your instrument and tune the strings till the melody sounds true. You should choose one favorite song for each kignit. Start by tuning the 6th string to the highest note you can comfortably sing. This will ensure that the instrument is tuned properly for your vocal range.

You can also tune your instrument using a piano or keyboard. Please note that western keyboards are tuned using equal temperament while Ethiopian music uses pure temperament. This will cause slight discrepancies in your tuning but it will be acceptable to most.