Andean Colombian Music

A brief overview

Andes region of Colombia The Colombian Andes is one of the five major geographical and cultural regions in which the country was divided in an attempt to understand its physiographic and sociocultural diversity.

Generally speaking, the notion of Colombian Andean music comprises an instrumental ensemble of plucked strings (tiple, bandola, guitar) and occasionally small percussion. This format has become widespread throughout the region, mainly being used to perform pasillos, bambucos, guabinas, dances. These music genres and their repertoires coexist between the traditional-popular and academic worlds, with clear tendencies towards the chamber music paradigm.

Scroll down for more information about specific topics:

  1. Musical Instruments
  2. Genres
  3. Common Instrumental Formats
  4. Some Musical Examples

Musical Instruments


Colombian tiple musical instrument The tiple is a plucked string chordophone of the guitar family mostly associated with Colombia, and considered the national instrument. It is slightly smaller than a guitar, with 12 strings grouped in four tripled courses. The first group consists of three steel strings. The other two groups have a copper string (or wound brass) in the middle of two steel strings.
The normal tuning from highest to lowest course is E B G D. Tiples are usually tuned in concert key but a Bb tuning was used in the past decades. The outer two strings of each of the three lowest triple courses is tuned an octave higher than the middle string in the course. With a 19-fret fingerboard, the Colombian tiple has a range of about 2-2/3 octaves.
The role of tiple can be as harmonic accompaniment instrument but it can also assume a melodic or a solo role. The main use of tiple is in Andean Colombian music with bandolas and guitars. The normal technique for sound production is with nails of right hand. In melodic contexts, it can played with plectrum. One ot the most idiomatic sound in the accompaniment role of tiple is named “aplatillado”, that can be translate as “as a cymbal”, and is made muffing softly the sound of the string with nails.

Andean Colombian Bandola

Colombian bandola musical instrument

The Andean Colombian bandola is a plucked string chordophone of the lute family mostly associated with the Andean region of Colombia (there are other kinds of bandolas in other regions of South America). Its shape is derived from Peñola’s vihuela (a vihuela with pear shape). In the Andean Region it is possible to find two varieties of bandolas, one with 16 strings and one with 12 strings. The second one is the most common kind and has its strings grouped in six double courses. The first and second courses are made of steel; the other courses are made of copper or wound brass.
Bandolas are usually tuned in concert key but a Bb tuning was used in the past decades. The normal tuning (in concert key) from highest to lowest course is G D A E B F# and the range is about 2-2/3 octaves with almost 19-fret fingerboard.
The main role of this instrument is melodic but it can be used as a solo instrument. The normal technique for sound production is the use of a plectrum but sometimes the nails are used to achieve special effects.
The main use of Andean Colombian bandola is in Andean Colombian music for string ensembles with bandolas, tiples and guitars.


Colombian guitar musical instrument

The guitar used in the Andes region of Colombia is the same acoustic guitar commonly used and well-known around the world. It uses the same tuning an construction techniques as the ones commonly used for the acoustic guitar.


The rhythms (genres) performed in Colombian Andean music can be broadly categorized in 3 types:

Colombian music rhythms

  1. The first group includes derivations of the European Hispanic ternary colonial songbook whose genre with the greatest impact in America has been the waltz, but also includes other salon genres and peasant dances. Besides the waltzes themselves, this group also includes pasillos and guabinas, among others.

    Pasillo is a popular dance from Colombia that evolved from the European waltz. This musical genre also exists in Venezuela as an Andean waltz, and in Ecuador as an Ecuadorian pasillo. It is known that some Central and South American composers, among which the Argentine Terig Tucci stands out, have cultivated it.

    Pasillo is usually written in 3/4. Its most frequent form is ternary although there are binary and even quaternary pasillos.

    In Colombia there are three clearly identifiable types of pasillo: one that is born from the traditional expression to encourage regional celebrations called “pasillo fiestero” (partying pasillo), fast, lively and cheerful, whose dancing expression as a couple is demanding and colorful; the pasillo song, romantic and sentimental pasillo closely linked to the practice of nighttime serenades, and the concert pasillo that is rooted in the popular, draws on academic knowledge and is positioned in the context of chamber music.

  2. Bambuco
    Of the Andean Colombian airs, the Bambuco is the most common in the region. Its existence is mentioned as early as 1790 when the oath of Carlos IV was celebrated in the south of the country as the new king of Spain. Historically linked to the deeds of independence, it remains today among indigenous groups, black and mestizo communities, rural and urban settings.
    Bambucos are loose couple dances, songs and festive folk dances. Bambucos can have different names and musical species throughout the Andean and Pacific regions of Colombia.
    Its rhythm, characterized by syncopation and irregular accentuations uncommon to Central European scholarly music, initially led musicians to propose an excessively complex form of writing it. This had a critical influence on the Bambuco’s evolution, stopping it from transcending the national borders for many decades. In 1957, the musician Luis Uribe Bueno puts into practice a writing proposal in 6/8 that allows metric-harmonic accents to be correctly located, and facilitates its reading and interpretation. However, given the peculiar characteristics of this genre, a writing is proposed combining, and sometimes simultaneously, the 3/4 and 6/8 meters (bi-metric). This phenomena is known as sesquialtera and comes from ancient Iberian Hispanic and Colombian peasant dances.

  3. Danza
    The third large group includes the genre called danza, which comes from the habaneras connected to the European Hispanic contradanzas. This rhythm constitutes one of those aspects of Latin American music that crosses the territory from Mexico to Argentina, evolving in very different ways: habanera in Cuba, danza in Colombia, danzón in both countries, milonga in Argentina, maxixe in Brazil.
    Its rhythm comes from the contradanza (an adaptation of word country-dance) of the nineteenth century. This rhythm exists in the country as a bucolic song of longing, and as an instrumental expression of saloon music. In the Andes region, it is not used for dance today; however, it is used as a traditional dance among the people in the Pacific coast. The main rhythmic characteristic of Colombian danza is its simple binary metric, the occasional stressing of the first pulse, and an accompanying rhythmic pattern as illustrated in Figure above.

Common Instrumental Formats