Music from the Andes is as diverse and rich as the many cultures that brought it into creation. Here is a crash course in Andean instruments.
For those of you who love lively Andean rhythms but don’t yet know about the many fascinating instruments that create the sounds you so often hear: this post about Andean instruments is for you.
The charango is one of Peru’s most beloved Andean instruments. Though the stringed instrument is important to musical styles across the entire continent, the Peruvian charango has a unique build that is unlike anywhere else. The charango Ayacuchano is the most popular style of charango in Peru.
It stands out from other styles because of its flat-back. This style of charango also creates a softer tone than other types. The charango is a great instrument for making high-pitched melodies. It is also often used to create complex rhythms by rapidly strumming the strings.
This sixteen-stringed beast is one of the lesser-known instruments of Peru. Ironically, people hear this instrument all of the time but are often unaware. The bandurria plays a fundamental part in traditional Peruvian carnival music within the region of Cusco. Once you recognize the sound of this booming instrument, you’ll recognize its sound all over the place.
The Spanish were the first to bring the bandurria to South America but in a very different form. Over centuries, native communities within the Cusco region adopted the instrument as their own. In the process, they made it larger and added many more strings. Its distinct voice booms over many carnival ballads.
Click here to watch the bandurria in action.
3. Pan pipes: the most recognizable of Andean Instruments
Because of their distinct sound, the pan pipes are probably the most easily-recognizable instrument of the Andes. They also have the deepest roots. We can see from archeological remains that humans have had pan pipes for almost as long as they have walked the continent.
There are many different types of pan pipes. The most popular ones are known as zampoña, which luthiers construct with two rows of parallel pipes which are tied together. Another kind of pan pipe is known as an antara, which is a one-rowed instrument.
Ocarinas are one of the most popular Andean instruments with tourists, and you can find them at almost any marketplace within the country. But some are more authentic than others. Most ocarinas you’ll find are mass produced and are therefore of a much lower quality than their handmade equivalents.
Thanks in part to the tourist demand, these instruments are much different than they were fifty years ago. You can still find authentic ocarinas if you look in the right places. In the town of Pisac in the Sacred Valley, you’ll find several artisans who still make ocarinas in the traditional way. You can also make a trip to the village of Cuyo Grande, where many families make ocarinas by hand.
Just like the pan pipes, the quena is an ancient instrument. People used to make these flutes out of animal bones, the most popular being llama and condor bones. Though you can still find animal-bone quenas, they are much more commonly made with bamboo or other hardwoods.
For those interested in learning how to play Andean instruments, the quena can be a difficult choice to start with because you first have to learn how to make a sound by blowing across the notch at the top of the flute. But after you pick this up, things get easier, and a lot more fun.
Cover photo: Mark Rowland/Flickr
This article has been updated from its original publication on August 28, 2018.
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