Charango Instrument: Andean Music from South America

Andean music has a long and rich history. One of the musical instruments that are particularly prevalent in their culture is the charango – clearly this instrument reflects some of the values and attitudes found in Andean music.

The Charango is a Latin instrument that comes from the post colonial era. After Columbus arrived to America, there were no stringed instruments of any kind. Wind and percussion instruments ruled the land in the old days.

One of the instruments the Spaniards brought was called a vihuela de mano (hand-lute). Over time, the Quichuas in an attempt to copy it created a Charango.

What is a Charango

The traditional model is a small 10 string instrument that has been in Andes since the 17th or 18th centuries. It’s still used widely today. The charango is a small South American music instrument that really comes from the lute family. Spanish conquistadors introduced the vihuela to South America. This instrument is seen as the precurser to today’s guitars.

The natives who lived in South America really liked the vihuela, but they didn’t have the capability to shape the wood like a vihuela. The natives did however use armadillo shells to work as resonators instead, where they could tie strings on them and convert sound vibrations into musical patterns.

That’s how the charango was born. It features a shell from an armadillo for its body and is lovingly crafted by local craftsmen. This is another theory of the origin of the charango. According to this theory, it originally came to Potosi, Bolivia from Ayacucho in Peru during colonial times.

The charango was first introduced to Potosi as a result of migration among Quechuans. Over time, it spread to more of the Andean region thanks to cultural interaction and exchange. This theory is not yet proven, but it seems likely. The final theory is that the charango was an attempt to create a lute that resembled a native’s ancestral instrument and could be easily hidden under their clothes.

Charango Tuning and Playing Styles

The most common tuning for charango is GCEAE. The strings come in both metal-wound and nylon versions, with a coating of either metal or nylon. It is not uncommon for the strings to be a mixture of both types.

Unlike string instruments like the violin, all of a zither’s strings are tuned within one octave. This means its tonal range is narrower.

Some people chose to play the charango with a pick, some with their fingers. It can be used as a solo instrument or to accompany a guitar – when it accompanies one, there’s an extra sonority that helps give an Andrean folk ensemble its identity.

The charango can play all kinds of music and is versatile enough that you can use it to play old, traditional Andean music or more modern/popular genres like Carnival music. It’s great for social events where people want to dance!

The type of music the charango is accompanying and the style of playing the musician does affects how it sounds. Generally, when it’s played with another instrument, the charango will be played in a strong and rhythmic manner.

One of the downsides to the instrument is that when it’s played solo or as a melody line, you have to use a technique called plucking – which is more difficult.

When playing solo, a charanguista might use the technique of plucking melody lines through intricate arpeggio patterns. It has a harp-like quality when they’re used as a picking or plucking instrument.

Design and Variations

This traditional string instrument has five double strings. It is similar to the number of strings found on a mandolin, which has four, but they are not the same construction. Similar to the charango, people occasionally refer to the Andean ukulele as a derivative of this instrument, despite the similarities in size.

The ukulele is a traditional Hawaiian instrument with four strings. Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii brought the ukulele with them, and it can sound very different from what you would expect for an instrument so small.

There are many different variations of the charango and it has been modified over time to make it more usable. The Ronroco is one of the smaller charangos. It has a deeper sound and tone and it’s closer to the baritone of the family.

Other designs may include a neck which can be attached separately, a top plate with contrasting woods, pegs made of ebony or palisander (which mimic the traditional style), and a box construction like you would see in classical guitars.

Some other things to take into consideration when it comes to design is your sound holes. For example, you may have a single round hole or an oval hole. You may also see multiple designs of sound holes.

There are a lot of different ways to do it. One common variation is to bore two holes into the neck so they are parallel with the fretboard and close to the headstock. It’s believed that this alteration gives instruments better sound quality.

Electric charangos are out there now, either solid-body electric or hollow-body acoustic-electric. They’re created in a way that’s similar to the way small electric guitars are made.

Acoustic-electrics are an upgrade to the charango, and they include a microphone that broadcasts the sound from the instrument.

Traditionally, drum backs were made from armadillo shells. These have been replaced over time with other materials because they are scarce to find in nature. Like the rest of the instrument, the back and body are normally carved in one block of wood or pine or spruce.

But not all guitars have round backs, some have flatbacks. They resemble the shape of a mini-guitar and can sometimes have metal strings too. A typical charango has a length of 26 inches, with strings that are scaled to 15 inches. It has a range of 5-18 frets.

The body is typically guitar-shaped and has a narrower waist than that of a lute. The soundboard and shape of the body are typically similar to that of a traditional guitar but may differ slightly.

Classic guitars use tuning pegs which are similar to those found on a violin. There are some guitars, however, that have tuning pegs similar to those found on a guitar. This is far less common, but does happen from time to time.

A lot of instruments come with different decorations and design features. Some have simpler purfling that goes around the top edge whereas others have headstocks that curve beautifully. As well as scenes painted on it like a mural.

Charango in Pop Culture

More and more musicians are putting out music with charangos in recent years. Modern urban artists, like Luis Jimenez and Camilo Gomez, both from Valparaiso Chile, are incorporating the instrument into modern jazz and other new age music.

The hit song by Simon and Garfunkel, “If I Could” features the charango. The lyrics lay over the recording of “El Condor Pasa” by Los Incas. The Japanese TV show 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother used the instrument, as well as another traditional Andean instrument, the Quena.

Gustavo Santaolalla, an Argentine composer incorporates the beautiful sound of a charango into his work. He has worked on compositions and soundtracks for films like  Brokeback Mountain, Babel and The Motorcycle Diaries. Andean instruments are being used more and more often by individual artists as well as bands. Los Kjarkas is one such band that incorporates an Andean instrument, in addition to panpipes and flutes

You can hear their music in Morcheeba. They have a whole album called “Charango” and the song is also named Charango. Colombian group Monsieur Perine also enjoy using the charango a lot in their music, mixing Colombian folk rhythms with jazz.


The charango has played an important role in Andean music over the years and is slowly becoming a more common instrument for modern instrumental songs.

if you ever find yourself in Peru, don’t miss the opportunity to check out their capital – Cusco. The charango is such an irresistibly beautiful instrument that you’ll hear it all around town and will make your time there a lot more memorable.

One thing is for certain, the Spanish guitar’s little South American brother will never go out of style.

FAQ for Charango Instrument Andean Music

Who invented the charango instrument?

The charango is a small guitar-like instrument that originated in the Andes region of South America. It is traditionally played with the fingers, and not with a plectrum (pick). It is made of wood or the shell of an armadillo and has 10 strings (a unique tuning system) that are tuned to the diatonic scale (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, si).

The charango was created by Spanish settlers in the 18th century, who combined elements of both the Spanish vihuela and the Quechua tarka. The word “charango” is derived from an onomatopoeic expression that imitates the sound that these instruments make when they are played.

What is the origin of the charango instrument?

The charango is the Spanish guitar’s little brother from South America. It developed about 300 years ago in Potosi, which is now in Bolivia. It might have been inspired by the Spanish conquistadors’ guitars or mandolins.

How is charango instrument played?

The charango is usually played by strumming with one hand, while pressing down on the strings with the other hand to create a sort of “chord”.

What are the different sounds that can be made with the charango?

The charango is a musical instrument that is often made from the shell of an armadillo or sometimes a wood box. The charango has a range of different sounds that it can make.

The sound made by the charango is determined by what material it is made out of, how it is played, and where on the instrument you are playing. For example, Pizzicato. This sound is created by plucking any string with a finger or a plectrum while it touches another string at the same time. This creates a percussive sound that is often used to punctuate melodies or emphasize rhythms in Latin American music.

What are the techniques used to play charango instrument?

There are several techniques used to play charango instrument. These are plucking, strumming, and tapping.

What is a typical size for a charango?

A charango is a small, 10-stringed instrument with a round body. It is often used in folk music and traditional dances.

The typical size for a charango is about 1 to 3 feet long.

What is the most popular size for a charango?

The most popular size for a charango is between 20 and 22 inches.

What are the different types of charangos?

There are two types of charangos:

  • A ten stringed charango which has six courses of two strings each.
  • A four stringed charango which has three courses of two strings each.

What are the benefits of the charango?

The charango is easy to play and can be used by anyone. It’s also very portable, which makes it perfect for musicians who like to travel.

What are common tunings for the charango?

The strings are tuned in pairs, with 4 of them tuned to the same pitch and 4 tuned to different pitches. The common tunings for the charango are:

1) G-D-A-E

2) D-G-A-E

3) C-G-A-E

Where is the charango used?

More and more people are picking up the charango in Andean regions of Bolivia and Peru. The Quechua and Aimara country folk of Peru and Bolivia prefer the charango with a flat wooden resonator and metal strings.

How many strings does a charango typically have?

The charango is a musical instrument that can have anywhere from 8 to 10 strings.

What are popular songs played on a charango?

Popular songs played on a charango include: “Para bailar el chotis,” “La Cumparsita,” and “El Choclo.”

How much does the charango Instrument cost?

The average price on charango ranges from $200 to $500.

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