If you are an avid musician with an affinity for the ukulele, you should become more acquainted with its Venezuelan cousin. The cuatro looks almost identical to the ukulele and will immediately captivate your attention upon first glance. If you are interested in learning more about the cuatro, you are definitely not alone. The popularity of this string instrument is only growing. This rare instrument will eventually become a part of the current culture much like the ukulele. Why not learn more about it now before it becomes widely recognized and known?
SAME LOOK DIFFERENT SOUND
At first look, you might mistake the cuatro for a ukulele that was strung by someone without musical knowledge. It has 4 strings, but the strings are strung in a different order to the ukulele. It is a re-entrant instrument, so the last string will sound differently compared with the ukulele. The last outside is one octave lower than the last string on the ukulele. The cuatro has an identical chord shape to the ukulele and when both instruments are played at once, you can hear a hypnotic sound that effortlessly flows.
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Tuning Difference Matters
Both of these string instruments look really similar when placed side by side. The only difference is found when you begin playing each instrument. You will immediately notice that the tuning is fairly different. The Cuatro is normally to be tuned with a reentrant tuning ADF#B with B an octave lower. It can also be tuned GCEA, but with the last string (the A) an octave lower always, whereas the Ukulele is tuned GCEA but (depending on the type of Ukulele) is tuned with the C (second string) an octave lower instead.
NOTE: The Cuatro can be used as a Ukulele, but never try it without first replacing the strings for Ukulele ones, otherwise you will be applying extreme pressure to the B string and run the risk of breaking it or even worst, damaging your cuatro.
If you are interested in expanding your music knowledge, you have to hear the cuatro for yourself to fully appreciate the distinct sound that it creates. Hearing the ukulele and the cuatro in unison is a unique experience that you should also discover. This string instrument is still a relative unknown, but you can be one of the few to understand the musical beauty that it holds. The cuatro has still not been discovered by many music lovers, but you can change all of that. This rare instrument really is unlike anything you have heard before. It might look like the ukulele, but it creates a completely unique sound.
Listen to Natalia Lafourcade playing a Roble Maria woods Cuatro made by a professional luthier on this NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. Fast forward to minute 8:00 :
The C4 Trio is the leading backers of the cuatro and has helped to put this instrument on the map in some small way. Fredy Reyna originally brought the cuatro to public consciousness in the late 1940s, but the C4 Trio has brought it back again. This instrument is most popular in Venezuela and is a huge part of Caribbean music.