Vihuela – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

I. What is a Vihuela?

The vihuela is a plucked string instrument that originated in Spain during the late 15th century. It is similar in shape to a guitar but smaller in size and typically has six double strings. The vihuela was popular during the Renaissance period and was commonly used in both secular and sacred music. It is known for its rich, warm tone and its ability to accompany vocal music.

II. History of the Vihuela

The vihuela has its roots in the Arabic oud, a lute-like instrument that was brought to Spain by the Moors. Over time, the vihuela evolved into its own unique instrument with a distinct sound and playing technique. During the Renaissance, the vihuela was a popular instrument among the nobility and was often featured in courtly music performances.

III. Characteristics of the Vihuela

The vihuela typically has a rounded back and a flat top, similar to a guitar. It has a short neck with tied gut frets and tuning pegs made of wood or bone. The strings are made of gut or nylon and are plucked with the fingers or a plectrum. The vihuela has a warm, mellow tone that is well-suited for both solo and ensemble playing.

IV. Playing the Vihuela

Playing the vihuela requires a delicate touch and precise technique. The strings are plucked with the right hand while the left hand presses down on the frets to change the pitch of the notes. The vihuela is often used to accompany vocal music, but it can also be played as a solo instrument. The player must have a good sense of rhythm and a strong understanding of music theory to excel on the vihuela.

V. Types of Vihuelas

There are several different types of vihuelas, including the vihuela de mano and the vihuela de arco. The vihuela de mano is a plucked instrument with six double strings, while the vihuela de arco is played with a bow like a violin. Both types of vihuelas have a similar shape and construction but are played in different ways. The vihuela de arco is less common than the vihuela de mano but is still used in some traditional Spanish music.

VI. Notable Vihuela Players

Some notable vihuela players throughout history include Luis de Milán, Alonso Mudarra, and Diego Pisador. These composers and performers were instrumental in popularizing the vihuela during the Renaissance period and helped to establish it as a respected instrument in the musical world. Today, there are still musicians who specialize in playing the vihuela and continue to keep this unique instrument alive.