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Collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell

Glossary of Musical Instruments

The following include a selection of musical instruments recorded, photographed, or sketched for the California Folk Music Project Collection. Information cited in quotes is taken from the WPA Final Report for the Project, entitled "A Study of California Folk Music," pp. 8-11. Browse by instrument:

  • Banjo
    "American. . . 5-string banjo."
  • Blul
    Also called blur. "The performer called it a "syrinx," but "it is probably a mistake . . . It is a single flute whose aperture is round, not closed or shaped in any way, except that its diameter is slightly less at the mouthpiece than at the bell. It is made of ebony. . . an instrument of the Kurdish shepherds. From Turkish Armenia."
  • Celtic harp
    Also called "Irish or small bardic harp."
  • Cimbalom
    Also called "cembalom . . . From Hungary. This is the ancestor of our hammer dulcimer and of our piano. It has forty-eight strings, which are stretched over a large sounding board and sounded with small hammers."
  • Clarinet
    Played in place of the "kirnata" by Armenian performer.
  • Daph
    Also called deff, def, or "defs . . . the tambourine, used in Greek and Turkish popular orchestras. From Armenia."
  • Dulcimer
    "American hammer-type dulcimer with 13 strings."
  • Dumbelek
    Also called "dumbeg . . . the hour-glass drum of Syria, played with the fingers."
  • Dvorgrle
    Also called "dvogrla . . . a double pipe [flute], with three holes for the right hand and four for the left. From Balkan Peninsula."
  • English guitar
    Also called "guitarra portuguesa or Portuguese guitar, this guitar has five strings instead of six, and looks much like the vihuela of the Middle Ages . . . shaped much like our mandolin, with a characteristic fan-shaped tuning mechanism."
  • Guitar
    In this collection, guitar occasionally refers to the Spanish guitar or "sonora, a very small form of the guitar."
  • Gusle
    Also called "gusla. . . a one-stringed, bowed instrument, whose single string is made of thirty horsehairs. The string is only touched, not depressed, so that harmonics only are sounded. It is held between the legs with the long neck supported on one thigh."
  • Hardanger fiddle
    "A small [Norwegian] violin with four sympathetic strings."
  • Harmonica
    Also called "mouth harp."
  • Harp-lute
    Also called "Swedish lute (known popularly as the 'double guitar')."
  • Hawaiian guitar
    A guitar with steel strings that are plucked while being pressed with a movable steel bar.
  • Kamanche
    Also called "kemancha . . . A small knee fiddle, bowed like a cello with four strings and four sympathetic strings. From Armenia."
  • Lirica
    "Small fiddle with three strings, held on the knee and bowed like cello, from Dalmatia."
  • Mandolin
    Pear-shaped instrument of the lute family with fretted neck and from four to six pairs of strings.
  • Misnice
    Also called "Mjersnice (one from Dalmatia, one from Hezegovina) . . . bagpipes made out of the skin of a goat . . . The chanter is a double pipe with six holes on each side. One pipe is used as the drone and occasionally fingered, the other side used for the tune, in nearly the same register as the drone."
  • Oud
    Also called "Oude . . . the modern form of the lute, from Constantinople."
  • Qanun
    Also called "Kanoon . . . A plucked instrument not unlike the zither, whose 30 strings may be varied in pitch by the use of small bridges. Its sounding box is half-covered in wood, half in a heavy skin like a drum. It has twenty-three strings all of gut. It is held flat on the knees for playing. From Armenia."
  • San hsien
    Also called Chinese long-necked lute, "3 strings . . . small snake-covered head.
  • Saz
    "The old Armenian guitar, with three strings, a small oval sounding box and an unusually long neck."
  • Svirala
    "A simple six-hole shepherd's pipe [flute], from Dalmatia."
  • Tar
    "A double-bellied guitar from the Caucasus."
  • Triangle
    Percussion instrument made of a rod of steel bent into the shape of a triangle, open at one corner, and sounded by striking with a metal rod.
  • Viola d'arame
    Also called "Portuguese viola . . . Like the Portuguese [English] guitar, it has five strings which are plucked with the fingers; but it is more like the Spanish guitar in shape, longer and narrower than the instrument the Portuguese call the guitar . . .Traditionally the sound holes are cut in the shape of two small hearts."
  • Yaogu
    Also called Chinese temple or flower drum.
  • Yueh ch'in
    Also called Moon lute, Chinese lute, or "Moon violin . . . A round plucked string instrument."
  • Zurna
    Also called "Surna . . . An oboe whose reeds are interchangeable with the Chinese oboe, whose tone it much resembles. From Armenia."