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  • Writer's pictureRonald

Short Zampoña Manual

The Zampoña

The zampoña is a wind instrument typical from the Pre-Hispanic cultures from South America. It is considered one of the first musical instruments in human history.

There is no agreement on the origins of the word “zampoña” but it is known that this name comes from a derivation of the Hispanic language. The original names of the zampoña are “antara” (in quechua language) or “siku” (in aimara language). The Pre-Hispanic Inca culture usually constructed their zampoñas with bamboo, reed, ceramic, wood, and bones.

In Peru, zampoñas were an important part of the cultural and religious life of Pre-Hispanic cultures such as the Mochicas, the Nascas, and the Waris. Archeologist have found more than 100 variations of zampoñas and similar wind instruments made of a variety of materials in archeologic excavations all across Peru.

Today, Zampoñas are still an important part of peruvian culture. Commonly known as Sikus in the highlands of Peru, they are used in religious festivals, parties, and rites related to the Inca cosmology. The performer of the siku is known as a sikuri. There are many different types of sikus and they are usually performed in ensemble.

Structure of the Zampoña

The zampoña is constructed aligning a series of hollow tubes of different sizes. Each tube produces a sound depending on its size. Larger tubes produce a lower tone and shorter tubes produce a higher tone. There are different types of zampoñas that varies on its size and distribution depending on the musician’s needs.

The zampoña is structured with two rows of pipes. The first row of pipes has 6 tubes and is known as “Ira” (which means male in Aimara). The second row of pipes has 7 tubes and is known as “Arca” (which means female in Aimara). Both rows structure a complete zampoña instrument with an alternate progression.

The diagrams presented in this manual portray a traditional zampoña. However, as mentioned before, there are many different types of zampoñas that vary in size and number of rows. This diagram presents the two parts of a traditional G major zampoña:

Holding the Zampoña

To hold the zampoña, the Ira (6 tubes row) always has to be in the front or closer to the mouth and the Arca (7 tubes row) always is positioned behind.

The traditional distribution of the zampoña has the long tubes (low tones) on the right and the short tubes (high tones) on the left. The right hand of the musician must hold the long tubes of the instrument and the left hand must hold the short tubes.

Since there are different sizes of zampoñas, the way to hold it varies depending on the size. A small zampoña (chilli) can be held with just one hand or with both hands and a big zampoña like a Toyo is always held with both hands.

The position of the body also plays a critical role when playing the zampoña. It is important to keep a straight position of the upper part of the body that allows the air flow from the diaphragm to the mouth smoothly.

How to blow the zampoña

The zampoña is meant to be played in an alternate vertical pattern following the musical scale of the instrument. In order to produce sound from the tubes, place the tube slightly under your lower lip. As you learn to blow the zampoña, you can slightly press the pipe opening against the lower part of your lips, this will allow you to control the air flow better. Then, tighten your lips creating a fine embouchure that allows you to control the air flow. It is important to direction the air flow inside the pipe and prevent air from escaping outside the tubes.

The attack is the movement of the tongue that aids in the insertion of the air flow inside the tube when playing a note that starts a phrase. To perform the attack, move your tongue from an idle state by moving it rapidly towards the mouth opening touching the interior part of the lip (see diagram). The tongue will help you to direct the air inside the pipe. Then, the tongue will return to its natural position. A way to do this, is by pronouncing the letter “T” or “D” while creating the embouchure and performing the attack.

The Zampoña is meant to be blow from the diaphragm. Take a blow of air from your nose trying to elevate your diaphragm and then push that air in a controlled manner and direct it inside the tube by using the attack. It is important that you practice how control the air flow and its direction, so you can produce sound from the tubes properly. The embouchure usually has to be tighter in the higher tones (shorter pipes) than in the low tones, so you will have to practice tightening your embouchure rapidly in order to perform.

Performing the attack


Since the zampoña is played on a vertical intercalate manner, the most important thing to do when learning to play it is to develop the skills to jump between pipes while playing them properly. There are some exercises that will allow you to become familiar with your instrument and skillful playing it. In order to perform those exercises, I recommend enumerating the tubes of your zampoña as shown in the diagrams (you can also include the notes so you can become familiar with the note that each pipe plays).

  • Important: The number of pipes and note distribution may vary depending on your zampoña

Exercise 1

This exercise consists on getting familiar with the double-row distribution of the zampoña. Start playing from the left side. First, you will play the number 3 pipe of the Ira. Then, you will go up to the number 4 of the Arca, and then come back down the number 4 of the Ira. Continue this progression until you reach 6. The second progression consist on going in reverse. Practice this exercise multiple times. It is more important that you learn to blow the pipes properly and get a clear sound from them than doing it fast. Take your time and try to increase your speed progressively.

Exercise 2

This exercise consists on getting familiar with playing progression on the same row and jumping to the other one. Again, try to focus on playing each note properly instead than doing fast. As you get familiar with the embouchure and the instrument, you can increase your speed. Try to finish each progression one by one. Then, you can try to mix them or play them in sequence.

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