The Cuatro is a four-string instrument originating in the northern areas of South American and the Caribbean. Similar to the Ukulele in many aspects, but having some very specific characteristics as far as how it looks and how it is played. The first characteristic we can pinpoint on the Cuatro is the pickguard or fingerboard which covers the top half of the instrument. Typically this is made with a different kind of wood and it gives the instrument a distinctive look to it.
How about the size of the Cuatro? Well, it is not as small as a Ukulele and not as big as a guitar, but the sound of the instrument makes it seem as if it is a heavyweight as it has a very rich sound. The instrument can be played very comfortably either standing up with no strap or sitting down.
The uniqueness of the Cuatro is found within its ability to be a percussion and string instrument at the same time. Cuatro players (Cuatristas) use different strumming techniques to give the effect of a percussion accompanying the music.
Here’s a quick demonstration on how the Cuatro sounds:
Cuatro Demonstration by Professor Adrian Toro
Cuatro Demonstration by Professor Luis Natera
In this course, we will give you an introduction on how to play the Cuatro using your Uke experience. We’ll first see how to tune and hold the instrument and later how to play chords and strumming patterns.
Can I play Ukulele songs with the Cuatro?
You can definitely make use of Ukulele interpretations with the Cuatro. The resulting sounds can come across differently, but essentially as long as you make use of the same chords and the rhythm, then you can repeat what you play with the Cuatro. Translating interpretations is slightly different.
It is not as easy as moving over a couple of frets, but it is easy to see how we come to this conclusion. The traditional tuning of the Ukulele is (G – C – E – A) and the tuning of the Cuatro is (A – D – F# – B). Basically everything is one tone lower than the Cuatro. In fact, the Ukulele can be tuned the same as the Cuatro! If you have some favorite music for the Uke, give it a try with the Cuatro! We have a full song library where you can find chords for both Ukulele and Cuatro.
Let’s start our introduction to the Cuatro for Ukulele players!