Six instruments from traditional Galician music

Galicia is a musical power. Traditional melodies, played by Galicians for decades, found a new life with the resurgence they experienced since the end of last century. At present, music-loving public worldwide enjoy the sound of the country’s popular instruments.

The Bagpipe

The queen of Galician music is related to other similar wind instruments played in places like Scotland or even in northern Africa. Its characteristic leather bag allows performers to lengthen the sound without needing to constantly blow, which makes it an instrument of immense sonorous possibilities. The ronco or chanter reed, the tube that rests on the shoulder of the piper, emits a continuous sound, while the punteiro  or pipe chanter is the tube on which the melodies are interpreted.

The hurdy-gurdy

The zanfona (hurdy-gurdy) is a device of ancient origin, which reached its peak in popularity during the Middle Ages. It is not unusual to find, among Romanesque sculptures, a musician playing the hurdy-durdy, which works by rubbing against the strings, originally made out of animal gut. Its monotonous and hypnotic sound has been revived in recent times by several of the most experimental groups within Galician folk music.

The tambourine

A must-have, even more so than bagpipes, in popular Galician festivities. The pandeireta (tambourine) is made up of a round wooden frame covered with leather into which several pieces of metal called ferreñas are inserted; these resonate in a very characteristic way. The pitch of the music played on it depends on the size of these pieces and on the tambourine itself. A good pandeireteiro has mastered several techniques to hit or roll the instrument. The music played on the tambourine is often accompanied by songs sang with several voices, covering a varied array of themes, from work songs to everyday stories, love or even malediction.

The pandeiro

This large, square percussion instrument makes sounds when the membrane, made out of goatskin and stretched over a wooden frame, is hit. It usually has jingles on the inside and the key to playing it well is hitting it in the correct way, with your fingertips, your fists, the palm of your hand…

The accordion

Of central European origin, the accordion is a success story, even in Galicia. It was invented in the early nineteenth century and shortly after it became part of the continent’s  musical tradition. It is, as those who play it always say, like having an entire orchestra within your hands. They come in various types and sizes, chromatic, diatonic… and its use is synonymous with festivals.


Several very popular elements are included in this title, and what they have in common is that they make sound by rubbing or hitting and are easy to find among everyday objects. Scallop shells, wooden spoons, bottles or even some farming tools are some of the more common examples.

2 Comments on “Six instruments from traditional Galician music”

  1. We would like to hear traditional Galician music when we visit October 19-22. we are sleeping in Santiago, but we will have a car. Do you have any suggestions ? Thank you, Paul Daley

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