What Instruments Are Typically Used in Chilean Music?

By Miles Jarvis
Chilean instruments are an integral part of Chilean music.

You may be unfamiliar with the instruments used to play Chilean music, but without these instruments, music from Chile would be entirely different. Chile has developed its own folk styles of music, and Chileans use a number of endemic instruments to preform their original pieces. Understanding Chilean instruments will help you understand Chilean folk music, and vice versa.

Types of Chilean Music

To understand the instruments used in Chilean music, it's important to understand Chile's native styles of music. Chile's musical traditions differ from north to central to south Chile and between ethnic groups such as the Mapuche and the Aymara. The Chilean cueca is an improvisational style played in a major key in 6/8 timing. The Chilean tonada is a traditional Spanish-influenced style. Contemporary Chilean music includes styles such as nueva cancion, which continues to be popular and relevant today.

The Charango

The charango is the most popular musical instrument in Chile. It is a short-stringed instrument, only about 66 centimeters in length, and is a member of the lute family. It has a guitar-like shape with ten strings divided into 5 course of 2 strings tuned to G, C, E, A and E. Traditionally, the charango body was made from armadillo shields, but today they are usually made from woods such as cedar or chestnut.

The Guitarron Chileno

The guitarron chileno has been used in Chilean music since the 16th century to play a variety of important Chilean genres such as the cuevas and the tonadas. It has more than double the strings of the charango -- 25 in total -- which are plucked in arpeggio style by the right-hand fingers. This instrument resembles a guitar in that it has a flat top and back but with a smaller body.

Miscellaneous Instruments

The Chilean tiple is a 12-stringed instrument similar in style and shape to the guitarron chileno and charango. The Spanish guitar -- an introduced instrument -- is commonly heard in Chilean musical ensembles, often in combination with the accordian, particularly in the south of Chile. Trumpets made from cane and cow-horn are common, as are snare and kettle drums and a variety of flutes, including the kena and siku. Some traditional Mapuche instruments include the wood flute, kultrun, trutruka and trompe.

About the Author

Miles Jarvis has been writing since 2009, with expertise in the field of East Asian languages and culture. He earned a B.A. in Chinese studies at the University of Waikato and has also studied at universities in Hong Kong and Japan.