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Did you know? - Snippet about Portuguese Musical Instruments

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Museu da Musica in Cascais (Lisbon)
Museu da Musica in Cascais (Lisbon)


Written by  Staff Writer
Thursday, 03 August 2017 11:26

In all the times and all places mankind always showed great ingenuity making sound and music from existing materials in its natural environment. The voice and the clapping of hands can certainly be considered the first instrumental forms used by man.

The Iberian Peninsula was home to a lot of different peoples and cultures, so its normal to these cultures to influence the others but still retain a little of their aspects - this happened with the Portuguese music.

Even in the present day, you can find types of instruments from different places, such as the bagpipes and the Arab adufe, but they are now and forever a part of the Portuguese culture.

From the Pauliteiros de Miranda in the Terra de Miranda to the Corridinho in the Algarve, the traditional music and songs transpire a poetic character that tells the history of a community to other people and generations to come.



Bombos are large bass drums that are played in a vertical fashion. They  can be up to eighty cm in diameter. Usually the musician hits only one  side of the skins, producing a deep and low sound.


The adufe is a square double skinned frame drum. The skins are sewn  together, often with seeds between them. It is held with the thumbs of  both hands and the pointer of the right hand, leaving the other fingers  free to hit the instrument. This instrument was introduced in Portugal  when Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula (see Al-Andalus).


The sarronca is a friction membranophone composed of a stretched skin over a jug that will serve as a resonance box. Sound is emitted when a stick or a reed is rubbed against the skin.


String Instruments

Portuguese guitar

The Portuguese guitar is a 12 string instrument originating in the  Middle Ages, based on the cittern and the Oud, the Arabic lute.


The Viola Braguesa is an instrument resembling the guitar strung with  five steel strings. It is played using all five strings at the same  time.

Viola de Arame

Very similar to the Braguesa, it has a sound hole in the shape of two  hearts. This kind of guitar is common on Madeira and Azores.

Viola Toeira

Almost extinct. Its sound hole has a horizontal oval shape and it has 12  strings organized in five orders. See also viola caipira.


The cavaquinho is a small string instrument of the European guitar  family with four wires or gut strings. The Hawaiian Islands have an  instrument similar to the cavaquinho called the ukulele, which is  thought to be a development of the cavaquinho, brought to the island by  Portuguese immigrants. The Hawaiian ukulele has four strings and a  similar shape to the cavaquinho, which was introduced into Hawaii by  Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and João Fernandes in 1879.


The braguinha is a kind of cavaquinho that is usually found in Madeira.



Gaita de Foles (bagpipe)

Wind instrument consisting of two or more single- or double-reed pipes,  the reeds being vibrated by wind fed by arm pressure on a skin or cloth  bag. The pipes are held in wooden sockets tied into the bag, which is  inflated either by the mouth or by bellows strapped to the body.  Melodies are played on the finger holes of the melody pipe, or chanter,  while the remaining pipes, or drones, sound single notes.

The early bag  was an animal bladder or a nearly whole sheepskin or goatskin. Bagpipes  have been documented on the Iberian peninsula as early as the 13th  Century, appearing in the illuminations of the Cantigas de Santa Maria.  Bagpipes have always been folk instruments, but after the 15th century  some were used for court music, and others have survived as military  instruments.


The Palheta is a double reed woodwind instrument similar to the oboe.


Concertina is the name by which the diatonic button accordion is known  in Portugal. It consists of a body in two parts, each generally  rectangular in shape, separated by a bellows. On each part of the body  is a keyboard containing buttons, levers or piano-style keys. When  pressed, the buttons travel in a direction perpendicular to the motion  of the bellows (towards the performer). Most, but not all modern  accordions also have buttons capable of producing entire chords.






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