Andean Instruments


Wind Instruments

Perhaps the most recognisable instruments used in Andean music are the panpipes, called "siku" or "zampoñas". These come in a variety of sizes and arrangements and are usually made out of bamboo cane or a very strong but lightweight reed called "songo" which grows on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The common names for the different sizes are "malta" (very small), "ika" (small), "siku" (medium), "sanka" (medium-large), "semitoyo" (large), and "toyo" (very large). The most commonly used in the vast majority of Andean music are the siku and sanka for normal melodies, and the toyos for a mesmerising bass sound.

The Andean panpipes are generally played either with one player playing two rows of pipes, or they may also be played by two players, each with a separate row, in "dialogando". Each player plays alternating notes of the scale.

More recently, some panpipes have a third row added which allows chromatic scales to be played, thus allowing songs in any diatonic key to be played.

Other variations to the standard panpipes include the "antara" in which all the pipes are arranged in a single row, and the "rondador" which are arranged in a single row, but in alternating 3rd intervals, allowing two notes to be played together in harmony. The rondador is very often used in the "San Juanito", a processional form originating from Ecuador.

Other types of flutes traditionally used in Andean music include the quenilla, quena, and quenacho. These three flutes are of identical constructions, but in different sizes, consisting of a hollow tube with a notch at the mouthpiece, six fingerholes on the top and a thumbhole at the bottom. The usual range of each is about 2 and a half octaves (though some players can manage to get a wider range). The construction is generally of wood, usually bamboo, rosewood, or ebony, but occasionally other materials can be found, such as bone, or even glass. Some quenas are highly decorated with andean motifs, making them in and of themselves works of art.

Other traditional flutes include the tarkas, which are carved from a single block of wood, with an integrated "whistle". The tarkas (or tark-flutes) are roughtly tuned to a pentatonic scale, and are available in a variety of sizes, the tones being approximately a fourth apart. Very often the flutes are played together in the different sizes. The melodies of the tarkas, however, are usually not the usual "diatonic" tuning as is found in most western music, and thus some people may find the sound somewhat irritating. (to each his own, I guess...) Occasionally the tarkas are played together with another "integrated-whistle" type flute called a moceño, which provides a more mellow, and usually much lower pitch tone. It is played transversally into a shorter tube mounted on top of the longer main flute. Blowing into the hole circulates the air to the end and through the whistle section, and resonating through the main longer tube. Again, like the tarkas, the moceños come in a variety of sizes.

There are literally dozens of different types of flutes used in Andean music, all with different sounds, indeed there are far too many to list here. Those I have mentioned, however, are among the most common flutes heard in Andean music.


String Instruments

There are almost as many types of stringed instruments used in Andean music as there are wind instruments. The most common, however, are the spanish guitar and the charango. Originally, Andean music consisted only of flutes and percussion. The guitar (and all variants) was introduced as a result of the Columbian conquest, the Spanish bringing the guitar from Spain. Over the centuries, many variations of the guitar have been developed, including the riquento, charango, ronrocco, cuatro, tiple, tres, and many others.

The charango resembles a small guitar with 10 strings. The strings are tuned in pairs of five notes, with the middle pair being an octave apart. The rest are tuned in unison. The sound is quite high, almost "tinny" in tone, with a sharp attack. The instrument may be played either rhythmically or melodically. There are some excellent modern masters of the charango, including Eddie Navia from Bolivia, formerly of the group "Savia Andina", and now residing in the United States and performing with his group Sukay. The charango is obvioulsy descendent from the spanish guitar, as is evident by the shape, but little is known as to exactly how the charango evolved from the guitar. One story that has been passed down was that the Incas and Aymaras, being from very proud cultures and not only skilled in handicrafts, but also in battle, had defeated the Spanish conquistadores in a number of battles. As a mimick of the Spanish, the Incas took the helmets of the fallen Spanish soldiers, attached a long stick off one end and mocked the Spanish in this manner.

The construction of the charango actually varies, but there is one common aspect among all charangos. The soundbox is usually carved from one solid piece of wood (with the exception of the quiriquinchu charango, which was made from the shell of an armadillo). The actual type of wood varies.

The charango has a "big brother" called the ronrocco, which is similar, with the same tuning, but an octave lower.

Another common stringed instruments is the cuatro, which looks similar to a thin guitar, but has four gut or nylon strings. The cuatro has a very dry sound and is often strummed in syncopation with the rhythm of many musical forms originating from Colombia and Venezuela. The cuatro is also considered the "national instrument" of these two countries.

The other stringed instrument worth noting is the Colombian tiple, which looks almost identical to a guitar, except that it comprises twelve steel strings arranged in four sets of three strings (rather than the usual six sets of two strings for the 12-string guitar). All three strings of each set are tuned in unison, and the four sets follow the tuning of the top (high) four strings of a normal guitar.


Percussion Instruments

There are, again, many different percussion instruments found in Andean music, the most common of which is of course the processional drum or "bombo". The bombo is usually made from a hollowed tree trunk with hide skins stretched across the top and bottom, usually sheep or llama hide at one end, and cow hide on the other. Bombos, like many other Andean instruments, come in all different sizes. A cousin of the bombo is the "wankara" which is similar but much larger and with cords stretched across one of the hide drumheads.

Another common instrument, heard throughout the Andean musical "repertoire", is a rattle made from goat's hooves. The name of the rattle differs between regions, with "chajchas" or "arreglos" being the most common, but the construction is the same.




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