Çeirir: An Introduction to Traditional Icelandic Singing

When it comes to Icelandic music, most people are familiar with the ethereal and atmospheric sounds of Sigur Rós or the quirky pop stylings of Björk. However, Iceland has a rich tradition of folk music that is less well-known outside of the country. One particular style of Icelandic singing that has been passed down through the generations is called çeirir. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what çeirir is, its history and cultural significance, and how it is performed.

What is çeirir?

Çeirir is a traditional style of Icelandic singing that is characterized by a distinctive vocal technique. It is usually performed by a solo singer, but can also be sung in a group. The word “çeirir” is derived from the Icelandic word for “quaver,” which is a musical term that refers to a rapid fluctuation in pitch.

One of the key features is its use of ornamentation. The singer uses a variety of vocal techniques to embellish the melody, such as vibrato, trills, and melisma (singing several notes on a single syllable). These techniques give the music a flowing, almost improvisational quality that is unique to çeirir.

History and Cultural Significance of Çeirir

Çeirir has a long history in Iceland, dating back to the medieval era. It was originally sung in churches as part of religious services, but over time it became associated with secular music as well. In the 19th century, it became particularly popular among women in rural areas of Iceland, who would sing it at social gatherings and celebrations.

One of the most important figures in the history of çeirir is Jón Ásgeirsson, a renowned singer and composer who lived in the early 20th century. Ásgeirsson was instrumental in preserving and promoting çeirir, and his recordings of traditional songs have become an important part of the Icelandic musical canon.

Today, çeirir continues to be an important part of Icelandic culture. It is often performed at folk festivals and other cultural events, and there are several groups and individual singers who specialize in the style.

Performing çeirir

Performing çeirir requires a high level of vocal skill and technique. The singer must be able to use a wide range of vocal ornamentation to embellish the melody and give the music its distinctive character. They must also be able to navigate the complex rhythms and melodies of the songs, which often feature irregular meter and unconventional chord progressions.

In addition to vocal skill, performing çeirir requires a deep understanding of Icelandic culture and history. Many of the songs are steeped in folklore and mythology, and the singer must be able to convey the emotional depth and meaning of the lyrics.


Çeirir is a unique and fascinating style of Icelandic singing that has a long and rich history. Its use of vocal ornamentation and improvisation gives the music a distinctive character that sets it apart from other forms of folk music. Although it is less well-known than other styles of Icelandic music, It continues to be an important part of the country’s cultural heritage, and its influence can be heard in the work of contemporary Icelandic musicians.

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