Also:       quirquincho      kirkinchu      kirki      chillador      tatu      mulita      

Title: Mountain Music of Peru v.2--Love song of the animals; performers not listed, charango and male voices (field recording by John Cohen--see Bibliography). Label: Smithsonian Folkways. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SF CD 40406. Track: 16.

Title: Music in the Andes [book by Thomas Turino--see Bibliography]--Descansa Corazon Fatigado; J. Benavente, charango. Label: Oxford University Press. Format: CD. Track: 16.

Contextual Associations

The charango is a strummed and plucked bowl-lute chordophone of the Andean regions of Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. A ‘hybrid instrument’ influenced by both European and pre-Columbian musical cultures, the charango has for centuries been a part of the musical lives of indigenous Andean peoples such as the Quechua and Aymara. In this cultural context, it is played only by males and traditionally used for courting and to accompany festival dancing. Since the 1920s the charango has also come to be played by urban mestizo musicians as part of the music making associated with nationalist political movements and professional folkloric ensembles that concertize in urban settings in Andean countries and around the cosmopolitan world. The charango pictured here and described below is most likely associated with this latter domain, probably hailing from southern Peru.


The hollow bowl resonator of this charango is constructed from the shell of an armadillo covered with a figure-eight shaped soundboard of thinly-shaven, straight grain wood. Near the neck-end of the soundboard is a soundhole 1.2 inches in diameter, and across the soundboard near its other end a wooden tension bridge is glued. Out of sight, on the interior side of the soundboard, are glued two horizontal struts, one just above the soundhole and the other just below it, to strengthen the soundboard and improve its sound. The wooden neck and peg block appear to have been joined together, perhaps from parts of previous instruments, into an integral unit. A flat fingerboard of contrasting wood that has 14 metal frets inserted into grooves cut across it is glued to the top face of the neck. The top end of the fingerboard terminates at a nut (a raised ridge) made of wood, and its other end overlaps the soundboard almost up to the edge of the soundhole. The base of the neck and head-end of the armadillo resonator are joined with glue, which is also used to bind the overlay of the fingerboard to the top of the soundboard. The pegblock is slotted and has two sets of five lateral-mounted metal machine heads with back-facing knobs. Five double courses of nylon strings are tied to the bridge, pass over and slightly above the soundboard and the fretted fingerboard in a parallel plain before making contact with the nut, after which they are wound around the tuning peg capstans. The strings all have the same vibrating length of 12.6 inches as measured from the bridge to the nut.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The charango can be played either by a seated of standing performer and held roughly horizontally or with its pegbox end raised up, the soundboard facing outwards. The player usually strums the strings with the right hand, stopping the strings against the fretted fingerboard with the fingertips of the left hand. Generally, indigenous musicians rapidly and repeatedly strum all the strings while a single melodic line is produced by stopping some of the string courses against the fingerboard. So the melody is always heard against a harmonic drone sounded on the non-stopped strings. Mestizo musicians appropriated this style, but also developed a plucking one involving their right hand thumb and index finger. In this style a melody and harmony line are produced in mostly parallel motion, and sections of pieces in this style are alternated with ones in the strumming style. Several tunings are used throughout the Andean area, but one common mestizo tuning is: G4-G4 - C5-C5 - E4-E5 - A4-A4 - E5-E5. When played by indigenous musicians on instruments with wire strings (as heard on the first audio example), the charango has a sharp and high-pitched sound (one name for this instrument is cillador, from the Spanish ‘to make a high-pitched cry’). When strung with nylon strings its sound is slightly more subdued (as heard in the second audio clip by a mestizo musician).


The charango dates back at least to the 18th century during Spanish colonial times. It is a local adaptation of the Spanish guitar and/or vihuela of the time. Its distribution follows the main colonial era trade routes through the Andes. Especially amongst indigenous players, the details of instrument design, number of strings, tuning, and playing style differ considerably from region to region. Even among mestizo musicians in southern Peru, where the instrument pictured here most likely originated, the design of the resonator (not all are made with armadillo shells) and the size of the instrument vary.

Bibliographic Citations

Bauman, Max Peter. 2004. “Music and Worldview of Indian Societies in the Bolivian Andes.” In Music in Latin America and the Caribbean, v.1: Performing Beliefs: Indigenous Peoples of South America. Malena Kuss, ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 101-121.

Cohen, John, and Thomas Turino. 1994. Mountain Music of Peru Volume II. CD and liner notes. Smithsonian Folkways SF 40406.

Ritter, Jonathan. 2012. “Peru and the Andes.” In Musics of Latin America. Robin Moore, ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 324-370.

Romero, Raul R. 1998. "Peru." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.2. ed. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 352-375.

Stobart, Henry. 1998. "Bolivia." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.2. ed. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 326-343.

Turino, Thomas. 1984. “Charango.” NGDMI v.1: 340.

________. 2004. “Local Practices among the Aymara and Kechua in Conima and Cana, Southern Peru.” In Music in Latin America and the Caribbean, v.1: Performing Beliefs: Indigenous Peoples of South America. Malena Kuss, ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 123-143.

________. 2008. Music in the Andes. New York: Oxford University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: South America

Nation: Peru

Formation: Quechua

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.321 chordophone--necked bowl lute: the handle is attached to or carved from the resonator, like a neck

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - joined

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with wood soundboard

String courses: double at unison, double at octave

Vibrational length: tension bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: machine head

Method of sounding: plucking (direct) and strumming

Pitches per string course: multiple (by pressure stopping against fretted fingerboard)


22 in. length 5.4 in. greatest width 2.3 in depth of resonator

Primary Materials

shell - armadillo
string - synthetic
metal machine heads

Entry Author

Roger Vetter