The History of the Cuatro Guitar Instrument

The Venezuelan cuatro has its origins in Europe. The history of this wonderful instrument starts many centuries ago with the expansion of the popularity of the Spanish Guitar, an instrument that used to have 4 strings. The Spanish Guitar traveled to South America and was transformed in many different instruments that now are part of the folk music for many of the Latin American Countries.

Besides the Spanish Guitar, there are also many similar instruments throughout history, like in Egipt or some European and African countries that also have used 4 stringed musical instruments. As an example, Brazil has a 4 stringed musical instrument called Cavaquinho, which comes from the Portuguese Cavaco

History of the Cuatro Instrument

The arrival of the Cuatro to South America comes with the Spanish conquers, bringing their musical instruments to the region, including the Spanish Guitar, which disappeared or was transformed into a 6 string guitar in Europe but remained with its original 4 strings in America. The history of the Cuatro Instrument doesn’t cease to amaze historians and musicians together, as the instrument had a very particular evolution, a bit different from other cousin instruments from different parts of South America, like the Brazilian Cavaquinho.

The Cuatro, also called Cuatro llanero or Venezuelan Cuatro, is being used in many countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, and many other Caribbean Islands, like Aruba. Once arrived in Venezuela, the Cuatro guitar started being used to compose folk music in most of the cities. Coro, El Tocuyo, Carora, Barquisimeto, Barinas. Since 1705 there are written letters mentioning the Cuatro in cities like Barinas. The instrument was also used to accompany singers in all of the regions of the plains shared between Colombia and Venezuela. Nowadays, Colombia uses the Cuatro for its Joropo music in regions like Villavicencio, Yopal, Guanare, Arauca, and Mani, only to mention a few.

If you would like to know more about where the musical instrument is played, visit this article where we talk a bit about where the cuatro is currently being used to perform songs and music genres.

So, what is a Cuatro Guitar or Cuatro Instrument? The Cuatro is a musical instrument belonging to the family of the Guitar, smaller in size, and using only 4 strings. The Cuatro is tuned A, D, F#, B, and uses nylon strings.

The Cuatro Instrument. History and Evolution
The Cuatro Instrument. History and Evolution

There is another instrument called Cuatro, with its origins in Puerto Rico. It is part of the same string instruments family. It is better known as the Puerto Rican Cuatro, the official folkloric national instrument of Puerto Rico, and curiously, this cuatro has 10 strings in five courses tuned from low to high: B, E, A, D, G. This instrument is used to play the melody most of the time, whereas the Cuatro that we’ve studied in this article is used mostly for strumming and accompanying singers.

So, now when you hear about a “cuatro guitar” or a guitar-like instrument coming from the plains of Colombia and Venezuela, you will know it is referring to a Cuatro instrument, as explained here. This instrument is not tuned in fourths, like others, but in a reentrant way, using fifths and fourths. It uses only four single strings, no pairs or different setups

If you would like to expand your knowledge about this or other string instruments, visit the Wikipedia Cuatro Page, where you’ll find more details, dates, and interesting facts about the instrument.

Is the cuatro the instrument you would like to learn next? Head over our Free Courses for Cuatro page and give it a try now! All TuCuatro Courses are free and you can start learning how to play this wonderful musical instrument with the help of our musicians.