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Jens Worm Bruun 1781-1836

Jens Bruun was a teacher and a member of the Education Society, an organization in Denmark that supervised what was taught in the schools. He was a versatile man who experimented with geographical, astronomical and musical instruments and wanted to simplify teaching music in the Danish schools. Bruun decided to make a simple instrument, but the idea was not original. In 1822 he read a German magazine where a teacher/organist by the name of Gottlieb Wilhelm Bade, built a monochord instrument in Mecklenburg to teach church music to students by using the Zifferscrift method instead of musical notes. Bruun thought this instrument would be useful in Denmark for teachers who had no great musical ability.

This simple one-stringed instrument was a rectangular wooden box with a gut string attached to each end. It could be played by placing it on a table with the bridge to the right and the saddle to the left of the musician and played by numbers or by notes. It could be stroked with a bow, or plucked with the fingers. You could adjust the sound by sliding a finger up or down the string to play various notes. Bruun decided that a better fingering method could be done by using the four fingers of the left hand and change off just like piano playing, not using the thumb at all.

Bruun’s instrument had a range of three octaves. It could go from the lowest human voice to the highest bird or mouse squeak. This could confuse beginners or those without a fine ear for sound. The fret board was flat and not marked clearly and that also weakened the instrument’s usefulness and restrained the interest of the musician.

In 1823, J. W. Bruun sent out 15 one-stringed instruments along with 150 song books with instructions, to various churches in Copenhagen. In 1824 while visiting in Sjaelland he gave music lessons and demonstrations to various churches and schools. He also tried to create an interest to the teachers in rural schools. He constantly offered free lessons on the instrument but the song committee of the Education Society seemed to ignore his work.

It is a paradox that the instrument which originated in Denmark, called a Cantochord, was mostly used in the other Nordic countries. Norway and Sweden named this basic instrument the “Psalmodikon” as it was mostly played in churches to lead in hymn singing. In Finland this instrument was nearly identical to the Psalmodikon but called a Virsikannel. Iceland had an instrument with two strings that they call a Fidla. Although Bruun’s instrument was the basic instrument from which theses Nordic instruments were adapted and became very successful, the Cantochord “lived” for about five years in Denmark where it remained as an unsuccessful pedagogical experiment.

J. W. Bruun died in Aarhus Denmark in 1836 at the age of 55.