The Plucked String: A Diverse Phenomenon in the Musical Traditions of the World’s Cultures
by Ramon P. Santos, Ph.D.
The history of the plucked string instrument is probably as old as the history of humanity itself, with its diverse shapes and sizes, as well as the great variety of its playing techniques, tonal systems, and its roles in the different musical expressions of the world’s cultures and societies. While it is difficult to trace its history of diffusion, let alone its association with the history of the human species in its endogenous and exogenous movements, studies show some traces of their migration, transfer and evolution throughout the history of the world’s peoples. What is interesting though is the variety not only of their importance in the different musical traditions, but also their usage and significance in the various repertoires. From being used to reinforce vocal renditions and ceremonial or ritual occasions, to its role as a solo instrument with improvisatory playing, and to its being a member of both homogeneous plucked string ensembles to heterogeneous groupings, the plucked string has been a distinctive musical tool in the expressive cultures of man.