Colombian tiple

Colombian tiple
Colombian tiple (Tiple)
A Colombian tiple
String instrument
Other names Tiple
Classification String instrument (plucked, steel or copper string chordophones usually played with fingerpicking, and steel-, etc. usually with a pick.)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification
(Composite chordophone)
Related instruments
  • Bowed and plucked string instruments
Culture of
Sombrero vueltiao stylized.svg

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The Colombian tiple (pronounced:tee-pleh) is a small plucked string instrument of the guitar family typical of Colombia where it is usually played as a main instrument or as an accompanying instrument to the guitar.



According to the RAE the word tiple denotes an acute sound (treble). It also defines tiple as guitars of very acute sound, this, however, is contradictory as today's tiple can't be classified as an instrument of acute sound. The term tiple is also considered the Spanish word for treble.[1]


Little is known about the beginnings of the Colombian tiple and its use in Colombia. The first accounts exist in an article published in 1849 by Jose Caicedo Rojas; in it he narrates a story that takes place in Chitaraque, near San Gil, Santander; about some soldiers that deserted the military after they became melancholic during a night of party. In the story he describes the tiple and how it was used to sing coplas.

In his references to the tiple Caicedo explains : "In New Granada we have the tiple and the bandola.They are an imitation of the Spanish vihuela". In 1923 well known musician Guillermo Uribe Holguin cites Caicedo's writing during a conference in which he criticizes the Colombian tiple as a poorer version of the Spanish guitar by saying "The tiple is a primitive form of the guitar, in other words, is a guitar without the notes E and A (...)[2]

In 1951 Bogotanian musician Jorge Añez cites in his book Canciones y recuerdos (Songs and memories) an observation made by professor Robert Pizano in which he points out that Neogranadine painter Gregorio Vasquez Ceballos painted some tiples in the hands of angels inside the dome of the church of Saint Ignace.

Colombian historian priest Jose Ignacio Perdomo Escobar quotes a Jesuit idiom that indicates that by the year 1680 tiples were already sold at stores in the municipality of Topaga,in the Boyaca Department. Such idiom was "guitars and tiples sold to multiply the happiness of the good people". This is supported by information found in the archives at the Cathedral of Bogota.

Colombian historian Guillermo Hernandez de Alba gives in 1954 a totally different theory in an article published in El Espectador of Bogota. "At the Canary Islands they have a typical small instrument called timple, it is played as an accompanying instrument...couldn't it be that our tiple is not but the evolution of a Canarian timple?"

Researcher and composer Miguel Angel Martin writes in his book Del Folclor llanero (Folklore from the eastern plains) from 1978:"I believe the tiple was brought to us from the Canary Islands and I believe the first tiples were made at the settlements of Tamara, Morcote, Pauto and Tame in the Casanare".[3]

In 1970 Harry C. Davidson publishes an extensive monograph about the tiple within his book Diccionario Folclorico de Colombia (Colombian dictionary of folklore). In it Davidson analyzes the concepts expressed by Añez about the paintings in Saint Ignace church and he concludes that there aren't enough sources to accept his theories and then he goes to affirm that "this instrument entered the historic heritage of Colombia at the beginning of the 19th century".

All this theories may indicate that it's very likely that throughout the 19th century the tiple was already part of Colombia's culture. There is no clear conclusion on where in Colombia the tiple first originated since the documentation is sketchy. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the tiple is linked to the Spanish guitar and the timple from the Canary islands.

Today's Colombian tiple is the result of a lengthy modification of guitars brought by the conquistadors to the New World. Historically it is difficult to say precisely what a tiple is since a number of chordophones have adopted such names over the centuries. There exists also the discrepancies in names given to the same instrument in different parts of Colombia. In his book Cancionero of Antioquia (Chansonnier of Antioquia) author Antonio Jose Restrepo makes a list of chordophones in which he includes the vihuela, the "cuatro" (four) which has only four strings, the guitar, the vihuela brava also called bandola and the old tiple of only five strings.

As of today, there isn't much evidence of a tiple of five strings except for references found in historic publications. Whereas the tiple of four strings still exists today and is a popular instrument in Colombia's eastern plains and Venezuela.

The immediate predecessor of today's Colombian tiple and requinto is the eight strings tiple. This is supported by evidence found among publications from 1868 and 1877 that intended to teach how to play such instruments. They were edited by Jose Eleuterio Suarez, Jose Viteri and Telesforo D'Aleman. The first one of this publications is Metodo facil para aprender los tonos del tiple (Easy method to learn the tones of a tiple) and can currently be found at the Luis Angel Arango and National Libraries of Bogota as historic material.

In 1868 Jose Viteri publishes a collection called Metodo completo para aprender a tocar tiple o bandola sin necesidad de maestro (Complete method to learn to play the tiple or bandola without a teacher) in which he explains how at the time some authors used the term bandola and tiple interchangeably.

During the 20th century the tiple goes through changes that gives it its current appearance. The first years of the 20th century the tiple's evolution was still underway and its sounds were still in a state of exploration. It became necessary to add strings in order to keep the harmony of the notes and as a result the tiple was modified with two additional strings resulting in four courses of 2 strings - 3 strings - 3 strings - 2strings

In 1915 writer Santos Cifuentes composes an article titled "Hacia el americanismo musical - La musica en Colombia" (Towards a musical Americanism - Music in Colombia) In it, he mentions the Colombian tiple. Unfamiliar with the instrument Cifuentes points out a couple of flaws, but his writing is of historic value since it explains that the tiple has by this time 12 strings.

The final step towards today's tiple takes place in the switch from a wooden machine head to a mechanical one with metal gears allowing the player to find the correct tuning not unlike today's guitars.

A photograph from 1921 reveals the "Colombian Lira" with the shape it is known today. After this time the Colombian tiple maintains its current form but the manufacturing process improves over the years producing better quality tiples reaching a level of high quality such as the ones currently manufactured by Alberto Paredes in Bogota or Carlos Norato and Hernando Guzman in Cali among others around the country.[4]

Timeline of the tiple


Artist Pedro Nel Martinez playing a Colombian tiple

The tiple is seen now as an instrument more linked to the folklore of rural Colombia where it still remains popular. The tiple had humble beginnings not as an instrument played by the well-to-do but by the people from lower social economic levels.Over time it became more important and finally accepted as an instrument to the level of the guitar which as an instrument has a more extensive heritage and to a degree was seen with more respect. Demographically the tiple was rooted to the mestizo population of the Viceroyalty of New Granada where it was looked down upon by the whites of unmixed heritage.[5]

In reference to the social difference between the tiple and the guitar Antonio Jose Restrepo wrote:

But it [the tiple] was pervasive among the bronze-colored people, the ones with working cloth and ruana, [with] a bag plentiful of gossip, [and with] a machete tied to the waist,[with] stick of guasco or verraquillo hanging on the arm, eye of the peasant, [whom is] sometimes barefooted, sometimes with espadrilles, [with] a hat of cane of iraca that is maliciously tilted to one side, under the brim of a broken crown; it stayed always with them, I say, the fat bellied vihuela, tiple, always in company of the tambourine (in case a party were to take place).

In Santander by 1840 the tiple could be found in "third class dances" which were parties for people of lower stock. It was usually played with a tambourine. It wasn't until Tomas Carrasquilla's novel Frutos de mi tierra (Fruits of My Land) that the tiple was first mentioned; in it he tells that the tiple was played by every artist whereas the guitars were still being played only at the jockey club in Medellin.

At the southwestern of Antioquia a small municipality became the first one in the country to include a tiple in its coat of arms. This is the result of many artists from this region who saw the tiple with endearment and embrace it as a symbol of their cultural heritage.


As of today the learning process varies and they are many. Since 1936 some have been published in the form of books or booklets. Many learn to play it from their parents and grandparents as part of a family tradition that in some cases is also a source of income as tiples are popular in trios or serenades.


As a relative of the guitar the Colombian tiple is built with many materials also used for guitars. The sound box for instance is made of walnut tree or cedar. The neck is also made of cedar. The frets are made of red or yellow copper embedded. The strings constitute the main difference between the Colombian tiple and other chordophones and the size of the tiple which is 3/4 of a guitar constitutes the main difference with a twelve string guitar. The strings are laid out in 4 courses of 3 steel strings tuned D-G-B-E.


Today's Colombian tiple corresponds to musical requirements and they are said to be tuned in C, nevertheless sometimes they are unable to go all the way up to B therefore they are tuned to a lower note, either in B or B-flat.

Playing a Colombian tiple

As with most chordophones of the guitar family, the Colombian tiple can be played either by strumming or with a plectrum or a combination of both. Speaking of playing the tiple, Harry Davidson said:

The secret of playing the tiple lies in the right hand. Producing the tones with the left hand in a more or less appropriate and fast way is something that even a paraplegic can achieve with acceptable efficacy. But to pamper it, caressing its strings in a loving way, stomp it creating wells of charming silence, to play it with bravado in joropos and torbellinos, to pick it between singing and singing carrying the melody. That, dear reader, demands more than skills, a special gift, a unique magic that very few have. In it the game of the wrist plays a role, the unfolding of the fingers as a hand fan, the sitting of the palm of the hand that falls on the strings pulsating of emotion, the nails that scratch off the miracle of the notes. To make a tiple make noises is something anyone can achieve, but to make it speak, laugh, sing, moan, cry..that can be achieved not by the one that wants to do it but the one that can do it.


See also

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