Construction, Tuning, and Playing

Common regional/ethnic names: bappe, diassare, hoddu (Pulaar), koliko (Frafra), komsa, kontigi (Hausa), koni, konting (Mandinka), xalam (Wolof), molo (Songhay/Zarma), ndere, ngoni (Bambara), and tidinit (Hassaniyya Arabic).

Playing and Construction:

The ngoni is a simple lute constructed with a wooden body acting as a sound box. The body is oval-shaped and is covered with cattle hide. Similar to the kora, the ngoni has strings made out tightly wound strands of nylon fishing line that are strapped to the wooden neck by strips of bound leather. To adjust the intonation of the strings, the musician can simply move the strips to down (to flatten) or up (to sharpen) the instrument. The ngoni usually has two main melody strings that are fingered by the left hand, similarly to a banjo or guitar. Accompanying the main strings are two to four strings set to a fixed pitch, these are played similarly to the harp and may be called harp strings. it is common for the ngoni to have four to five string although some have up to eight.


Each tuning is called kumben within the Mande traditions. Several pieces can be played in different tunings, however songs do have traditional tunings. The lower melodic string is referred to as the ba (mother) and the the higher string is called the jeli.

Within the Wolof-speaking parts of Senegal, the ngoni has three principal tunings, all include tuning the melodic strings as perfect fourths (similar to a guitar).

The first tuning (ci suuf or low) has the main strings tuned to the first and fourth scale degree (C and F, in a C major scale), with the supplementary strings tuned an octave higher at degrees one, two and three (C, D, and E).

Second tuning (ci kow or high) uses the same string intervals but place the main strings in a minor sequence being set at the third and sixth scale degrees (E and A). This tuning only uses two supplementary strings tuned to the third and sharp fourth (E and F#).

The third tuning (ardin), is also minor and has the main strings turned to a sixth and a second (A and D) with the supplementary strings tuned 5 and 1 (G and C). This tuning resembles the minor scale.

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(Posted by Paul Edwards)

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