The bordonúa is the largest and most solemn-sounding of the Puerto Rican string instruments. Its name is derived from the Spanish word bordón, which means a thick string. Its origins lie with other similar Spanish string instruments.

In Puerto Rico, as occurred with the tiple, there was a wide variety of forms, sizes and styles, which varied by the region where they were made. This diversity is the reason there is no consensus today on the construction and tuning of the bordonúa.

The bordonúas used in the 19th century were large and deep-voiced, producing tones as low as those of the guitar. It was used as accompaniment in folk orchestras, but over time, the guitar came to be the preferred instrument for this purpose. In the early 20th century, the bordonúa came to closely resemble the cuatro, but with tuning similar to the courtesan vihuela of the 16th century. Its role was mainly melodic.

Over the years, the bordonúa ceased to be part of the folk orchestras. In an effort to rescue the use of this instrument during the 1950s, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture embarked on a program to revive the traditional string instruments of Puerto Rico. It commissioned artisans to build bordonúas and began to develop a method for teaching students how to play the instrument. Today, this instrument is an essential part of many folk music groups.

Like the other traditional string instruments, the bordonúa is made from local wood. The form of the box is similar to a guitar, but longer and narrower. The frets are wider, which gives the bordonúa a metallic sound called chirreo by Puerto Rican folk musicians.

The bordonúa has five double strings and the thickness varies depending on the preference of the musician. The tuning, according to the method that musicologist Francisco López Cruz began to write, is mi, so, fa sharp, re and la. This tuning is the same as the first five strings of the guitar with the exception of the third, which is a half note lower. It is similar, in tessitura, to the cuatro. Another tunnins sequence that is used is similar to the tiple, but an octave lower: do, so, re, la and mi.

Adapted by PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Francisco Marrero Ocasio, Los instrumentos de cuerda en Puerto Rico, 2003. CD Vuelvo a mi Estrella. Taller Musical Retablo.


Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 28, 2014.

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