The tiple is the smallest of the traditional string instruments of Puerto Rico and has the most high-pitched tone. Its name comes from the word “tiple,” which means soprano, or the highest of the human voices, of women and children. Tiples are characterized by a much narrower range than the other Puerto Rican string instruments. This allows it to achieve higher-pitched, sharper notes.
Its origins lie among the string instruments of Europe. Since the 16th century in Spain, any instrument with a narrow, soprano range was called a tiple or discante. These instruments were popular in Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries and were copied, with modifications, in the New World. Each country adopted and adapted the instruments based on its own circumstances. Examples are the various charangos, small five-stringed guitars of South America, the tynia of Peru, the cuatro and the quinto of Venezuela, the jarana of Mexico and the ukulele of Hawaii.
The first Puerto Rican tiples date to the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, the rustic tiple was the most widely accepted string instrument among the populace. It was the easiest to build, the most economical and most accessible. Along with the maraca and the güiro, it was an essential part of folk music groups and was played at the promesas, dances and trullas.
The characteristics of the tiples varied by region, family or person. The first tiples were developed in isolation in different regions of the island. The artisans valued locally available materials, built the instruments in a rudimentary form, and had few opportunities for mobility or exchange of ideas. As a consequence, the tiples were built, strung, tuned and played according to the tastes of the owner or the builder. There was a great variety of sizes, forms, stringing and tuning.
Its decline began in the early 20th century. One of the factors that contributed to the instrument falling into disuse was its regional and personal character, as it made it more difficult to pass information to following generations that would motivate them to continue building and playing the instrument. Also, unlike the cuatro, which evolved in form, stringing and tuning, the tiples maintained their characteristics more or less intact. Also unlike the case of the cuatro, there was no movement to rescue the instrument until recently.
There are many different tiples, but, they can be classified into three principal classes: requintos, dolientes and the large tiples, also called tiplones. The requintos were the smallest and can be further divided into coastal and mountain variations. The tiplones were larger and resembled the old cuatro with four basic strings, but with a narrower box. The dolientes are of intermediate size and produce a more melancholy sound.
Scholars of the tiple have chosen the doliente as the representative instrument of the Puerto Rican tiple, as it is the best known form, is of intermediate size, and its five strings provide greater potential. The doliente tiple has five strings, is 24 inches long and its scale, or the distance between the base of the neck and the bridge, is 14.5 inches.
Like the cuatro and the bordonúa, the other Puerto Rican string instruments, the tiple is made of local wood; preferably guaraguao for the body, palm for the face, and the Puerto Rican hibiscus tree for the accessories. Unlike the old tiple, which used strings of animal gut or leather and wood pegs, in the modern instruments the strings are metal or synthetic and the tuning pegs are mechanical.
The tuning of the tiple, from first to fifth, may be do, so, re, la and mi, or re, la, mi ti and fa sustained, or, in other words, a whole note higher in even, descending order.
Adapted by PROE Editorial Group
Original source: José Reyes Zamora, El tiple puertorruqueño: historia, manual y método, 2006, Ediciones Puerto.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 28, 2014.
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