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The History of the Cuatro Guitar Instrument

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

Besides the Spanish Guitar, there are many similar instruments throughout history, like in Egipt or some European and African countries that have used four-stringed musical instruments. For 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 came with the Spanish conquers, bringing their musical instruments to the region, including the Spanish Guitar, which disappeared or was transformed into a six-string guitar in Europe but remained with its original four strings in America. The history of the Cuatro Instrument does not cease to amaze historians and musicians, as the instrument had a very particular evolution, 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 used in many countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, and many other Caribbean Islands, like Aruba. Once it arrived in Venezuela, the Cuatro guitar started being used to compose folk music in most cities. Coro, El Tocuyo, Carora, Barquisimeto, Barinas. Since 1705 there have been letters mentioning the Cuatro in cities like Barinas. The instrument was also used to accompany singers in the plains regions 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.

What is a Cuatro Guitar?

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 four strings. The Cuatro is tuned A, D, F#, and B and uses nylon strings.

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

There is another instrument called Cuatro, which originates 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. Curiously, this cuatro has ten 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 have studied in this article is used mainly 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. Also, don’t get confused if you hear other names, Latin Cuatro, Venezuelan Cuatro, and Quattro; they are all the same instrument: The Cuatro

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

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