6 junio, 2024

6 native musical instruments of Guatemala

Some musical instruments autochthonous from Guatemala They are the marimba, the shawm, the ayotl, the chinchín, the tunkul and the ocarina. These instruments were created in this country, or some of them transformed and adapted to their music (like the shawm).

This Central American country has a wide variety of musical styles from different heritages that have influenced culture over time.

To fully understand Guatemalan musical culture, one must first learn about its Mayan origins. The Mayan culture is divided into three main periods: the preclassic (2000 BC-AD 250), the classic (250-900) and the postclassic (950-1697).

Throughout these years, various musical instruments were developed, which made the people dance and sing during the festivities. They were present in their agrarian rites, and were also used by warrior groups. They were percussion instruments (idiophones) and wind instruments (aerophones).

Among the wind instruments were whistles, reed flutes, whistling glasses, among others. And regarding the percussion instruments, wooden drums with a jaguar or deer skin membrane, tunkules, turtle shells and scrapers.

Later, with the Spanish conquest, various instruments brought from Europe were included and adapted to the native instruments of the Mayan people, thus creating the foundations of the musical culture of present-day Guatemala.

Native instruments of Guatemala

1. shawm

It is a reed flute, brought to the American colonies by the Spanish at the end of the 15th and 16th centuries. This aerophone instrument, made from cane wood, could be defined as the predecessor of the oboe.

It has nine side holes, of which only six are used to cover them with the fingers, and they have high, low and high tones.

This instrument was used by the Mayan peoples for different popular festivities and religious celebrations.

2. Marimba

It is a percussion instrument made up of a series of strips or sheets of wood of different sizes. These are applied on a scale from major to minor, and to produce the sound they must be struck with small mallets. The marimba bears a great resemblance to the xylophone.

Each one of these keys has its own particular sound box and at the same time, all of them are supported or embedded in a wooden board that supports them.

The marimba arises from the cross between instruments originating in Europe, Africa and, of course, Guatemala, between 1492 and 1680.

The word marimba comes from Bantu, and means «ma» (many), and «rimba» (single bar xylophone).

It is the obligation of the Ministry of Education of Guatemala to promote the teaching of this musical instrument in all public and private schools in the country, since since 1999 the marimba was declared a national symbol.

3. Ayotl

The ayotl, or squash, is an indigenous instrument of the Mayan culture. It is a percussion element, built with a shell or turtle shell. The sound is produced by hitting it with drumsticks, or by scraping it with a deer horn on its convex part.

Formerly, it was used in funeral or religious rites, or in a party in honor of the gods. An extra resonance wooden box was also used to be placed below the squash, to amplify its sound.

4. Chinchin

The chinchín, maraca or rattle, is an instrument aboriginal hollow percussion, made of wood, to which seeds, grains and cereals are added, which produce the sound when shaken.

Particularly, the rattle is made with the fruit of the tree called morro or, failing that, with a gourd.

In the beginning, they were painted black, but currently they can be found in various colors, such as red and yellow. They also have beautiful decorations on the outside of the gourd. Commonly, they are played during Christmas celebrations.


It is a drum, built with a horizontal hollowed-out wooden trunk (mahogany, cedar), and with a patch of deer or jaguar skin added to the top. It is struck with two sticks. They could also be made with clay.

It is one of the instruments most used by the Mayan civilizations, and to this day, various indigenous peoples throughout Guatemala use it for different types of festivities. In its upper part it has two tabs for low and high sounds.


It is an aerophone (wind) instrument, colloquially called whistle or whistle, made from mud or bones. Currently, they are made with different materials, ranging from wood and ceramic to plastic.

The ocarina also comes from the Mayan culture. They were used by the aborigines of the Mesoamerican peoples, not only as musical instruments, but also for hunting. There are several types of ocarinas:

– Transversals: classic ocarina, rounded.

– In line: small and compact, with more holes.

– Pendants: English and others of Inca origin. They differed in that the first ones have between four and six holes, are small and manageable, while the Inca ones have up to eight holes and are larger than the English ones.

– With multiple chambers: they achieve a greater harmonic register than the rest of the ocarinas.

– Ocarinas with keys: built since the late 1800s.

The forms of the ocarinas are very diverse, since some can have human forms, others of animals. They also vary in sizes. There can be singles, doubles and even triples.


Nicaragua Information. The marimba, an instrument similar to a xylophone, is the national instrument.
native instruments. Recovered from vosytuguatechula.jimdo.com.

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