If you have done much traveling, you know how fun it is to go out to a restaurant or night club and be entertained by a string instrument that’s unique to that particular country. Some are funny, some are great and some are downright amazing.
If you visit South Africa you’ll probably hear the Goura. The Goura is a stringed instrument made from a coconut shell. It actually sounds really nice and festive for sure. The funny thing is that it’s blown, not plucked but it’s still a stringed instrument. If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear one, you simply must.
Another really unusual foreign instrument is from India called the Sitar which can have a good number of strings. The Beatles actually used a Sitar in their music. Another one, probably the most popular, is the Tatnpura which is used more as an undertone or harmony when played alongside other instruments. There are over one hundred stringed instruments that originate in India which says a lot about their love for them.
Years ago I visited Israel and had the pleasure of going to a dinner where we were all serenaded by a Kinnor which is a Hebrew harp. It is built like a harp but played like a guitar because it is strummed rather than plucked. It was romantic and a memory I will never forget like going back in time. The Kinnor is so important it is embedded in a Jewish coin as a symbol.
On the same trip, I got to experience the sounds of the Ancient Egyptian shovel-shaped harp. It was, indeed, the most peculiar stringed instrument I have ever seen or heard and I fell in love with it. The smaller the harp, the higher the pitch it produces. The one I had the chance to hear was quite large with a low and very pleasant, mesmerizing pitch.
The Greek Lyre is intriguing. It will hypnotize you. In ancient days, the Lyre was often made from a tortoise shell and was called a Chelys. The Greek were well known for their stringed instruments and still are.
The three stringed Japanese Shamisen is very rich in culture. It’s plucked and resembles a guitar or banjo of sorts. The eerie thing is that sometimes a Shamisen is made out of dog skin. Other than that, it is a remarkable piece of work that is quite interesting to hear. There are many, many variations of the Shamisen and it is used in a myriad of genres of music. If you visit Japan, you are sure to hear one and can even purchase one for a song. But do be careful because the less expensive ones are the ones that are sometimes made of dog skin.
One of my favorite things to do when visiting another country is to look up different places where I can hear the instruments of that country. While I love music and instruments of all kinds, the stringed ones are the closest to my heart. I’m not sure what it is about them but it seems that no matter how far I travel or how different the culture is, I can find myself feeling quite at home with a simple strum of any stringed instrument.