Tag Archives: Idiochords



Name: Valiha.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Tube > Idiochords.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.11
Country: Madagascar.
Region: Indian Ocean.

Description: The valiha is a tube zither from Madagascar made from a species of local bamboo [valiha diffusa]. It is considered the “national instrument” of Madagascar. Aside from secular music, the valiha is also used for ritual music to summon spirits

Etymology: The name ‘valiha’ is also used to describe a number of related zithers of differing shapes and materials.

Tunings: Generally the valiha is tuned in a diatonic scale. The tuning and scale are dependant on the length of the tube used for the valiha. My instrument is tuned to D so the scale comes out as a D major diatonic D / E / F# / G / A / B / C# / D.

Construction: The valiha generally has 21-24 strings. Prior to the use of bicycle brake wire or other similar metal for strings. The strings from the valiha were carved from the same piece of bamboo the instrument is made from.  They cannot be replaced if they are broken. Small bridges cut from gourd raise the strings at a particular height from tube to string. Today valiha’s are strung with guitar and piano strings of the correct tension and diameter may also be used.

Citations: Bibliography: Bruno Nettl 1985 – The Western impact on world – change, adaptation, and survival. Schirmer Books. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-02-870860-7 ; Garland Encyclopedia of World Music ; The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Routledge. pp. 123–. ISBN 978-1-136-09570-2 ; Hans Austnaberg 2008 – Shepherds and Demons: A Study of Exorcism as Practised and Understood by Shepherds in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Peter Lang. pp. 158– ISBN 978-0-8204-9717-4. Elijah Wald 2007. Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music. Taylor & Francis. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-415-97930-6 ; Dominique Louppe 2008 – Plant Resources of Tropical Africa: Timbers / ed.: D. Louppe ; A. A. Oteng-Amoako. General ed.: R. H. M. J. Lemmens …. 7. 1. PROTA. pp. 573 – ISBN 978-90-5782-209-4 ; American Lutherie: The Quarterly Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers. The Guild. 1993. p. 22 ;


Name: Lutong.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Tube > Idiochords.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.11
Country: Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The lutong is a tube zither that is played by the Kenyah and Kayan people of Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. It is a quiet instrument used by women to accompany singing, and occasionally to lead a long-dance. There is a story told by the locals that if a man plays this instrument, he will be attacked by a tiger.

Construction: The lutong is made from a section of bamboo with the strings pulled up from the peel. The strings are stretched taut by small sticks, and held in place by a braided piece of rattan at either end. There are usually only four strings that extend the length of the tube.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: Randy Raine-Reusch @ asza.com [lutong article] ;


Name: Dungadung.
Type: Chordophones > Zither > Tube > Idiochords.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.11
Country: Kalinga Province, Luzon, Philippines.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The Dungadung is a tube zither whose alternate names are regional [Southern Philippines, tagakaolo, katimbok, kudling, serongagandi, tabobok or takumbo] that is played by the Kalinga people who in Kalinga Province, Luzon in the Northern Philippines.

In the southern Philippines it is known as a tagakaolo or as a katimbok or by the Hanunoo as a kudling. The Isneg people refer to the tube zither as a pasing and the Negrito people refer to it as a tabengbeng. The Maranao people refer to the instrument as a serongagandi.

Playing Techniques: It is played by striking the strings with a stick in the manner of a percussion instrument.

Citations: Bibliography: New Grove Dictionary of Music by Stanley Sadie, José Maceda P.  636 : Websites:

Villu Paatu

Name: Villu Paatu.
Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Percussive.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 311.121.21
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: Villu Paatu [in Tamil: வில்லுப்பாட்டு and English: Bow Song] another alternative name of the villu paatu is [in Tamil: வில்லடிச்சம்பாடு Villadichampaatu], is an ancient form of musical story-telling in India where narration is interspersed with music, an art of southern state of Kerala and Thovalai in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.

This art form is popular among Nadar and Chettiar castes of erstwhile Travancore kingdom. Simple tunes and verses make the story to be followed easily. The villu [bow] likely having its origins from the bow as used by warriors. This paradoxically lends itself to be used as a primary musical instrument for the Villu Paatu artists.

Repertoire: Throughout Tamil villages, performers narrate stories ranging from mythological to social. The main storyteller narrates the story striking the bow. The bow rests on a clay pot kept facing downwards. A co-performer beats the pot while singing. There is usually another co-singer who acts as active listener to the narration, uttering appropriate oral responses. The local government sometime utilize this as a vehicle for social messages and propaganda.

When the villu paatu is being played, in accompaniment with Udukku [In Tamil: உடுக்கை], Kudam [In Tamil: குடம்], Thala, Kattai [In Tamil: கட்டை], which are used as supplementary instruments in performances. Udukku is a small drum with a slender middle portion which is held in the left hand and played by the fingers of the right hand. Occasionally, the Villu Pattu team divides itself into two groups, each trying to prove opposite points-of-view of a subject.

This is called Lavani Pattu. The songs used by the Villu Pattu artists are mostly traditional folk-songs. They are played during occasions of temple festivals in villages. The songs sung mostly in Villu Paatu praise a god or tell a story. These days the number of artists performing Villu Paatu is tremendously reduced as the income earned from it is never enough for running one’s life.


Citations: Bibliography: Websites:


Name: Onavillu.
Type: Chordophones > Bows >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#:
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The Onavillu is a simple, short, bow-shaped musical instrument. Its name may come from Onam, a festival in Kerala where the instrument is used in dances, and villu, which means ‘bow’ in Malayalam and several other South Indian languages. Although still regularly used in rural art forms, use of the onavillu is on the decline.

The ceremonial onavillu, which is not a musical instrument, is made from a flat piece of wood 1.27 cm or 1/2 inch thick, tapering on both sides. Sizes may range from 106.6 cm / 3.5 feet in length by 10.16 cm / 4 inches in width; 137.1 cm by 4.5 feet. The wood of kadambu, maruthu, jack fruit tree and aanjili trees are preferred [See List of Indian timber trees].

The wood is cut to the required dimension before being decorated with miniature paintings of Anantha Sayanam [reclining pose of Lord Vishnu] and avatars Dasavatharam, Shri Rama Pattabhishekam and Shri Krishna Leela. Ashari family residing near Pujapura Trivandrum are the right to make the red tassels used to adorn the bows; The making of the ceremonial bows is the preserve of a local family.

Ceremonial Usage: On Thiruvonam day, the birthday of Lord Maha Vishnu, large number of devotees visit the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India to take part in the onavillu charthal, the dedication ceremony of the colourful bows. The temple is one of the 108 sacred temples dedicated to Lord Mahavishnu.

The bows are first offered to the family deity at the Vilayil Veedu, Karamana for three days. They are then taken to Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple on Thiru Onam day and displayed at the Natakasala before being offered to the deity.

The Anantha Sayanam version of the villu is consecrated to Lord Padmanabha [Vishnu]; the one with the Dasavathram painting is offered to Lord Narasimha; the one showing the Krishna-leela is dedicated to Lord Krishna; the one with the painting of Shri Rama Pattabhishekam is consecrated to the idol of Shri Rama. The onavillu are removed on the third day. The Temple Trust distributes the onavillu to devotees, who consider them a symbol of prosperity.



Name: Malunga.
Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Percussive.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 311.121.21
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The Malunga is a single stringed musical bow that is played by the Siddi people of India. The Siddi people are the descendants of East African immigrants. This instrument produces two tones an octave apart.

Playing Techniques: This instrument produces two tones an octave apart. The knuckle of the hand supporting the instrument an also maybe pressed against the string to vary the pitch. Similar to the berimbau of Brazil it is struck with a stick and held in a similar manner during playing. A rattle called the Mai Misra is placed along the string it also varies the pitch. Although it is becoming scarce the malunga one that can still be encountered in Siddi music.

Construction: The malunga is constructed from a single solid core bamboo and the string is made of three twisted strands of gut. The gourd resonator is made from a coconut shell and is a mobile part of the instrument. The gourd resonator amplifies the instrument when it is played.

Citations: Bibliography: Projeto Sidi Malunga ISBN 1-880519-28-3 ; Websites:


Name: Bobre.
Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Percussive.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 311.121.21
Country: Mauritius & Reunion Islands.
Region: Indian Ocean.

Description: The bobre is a musical bow that is a traditional musical bow in Mauritius and the Réunion Islands. This bow was used particularly in the traditional genres of Sega and Maloya. Although no longer used in Mauritian Sega it is still played in Reunion Islands.

Playing Techniques: It is held close to body of the musician who holds bow in his left hand. The musician plays the bow by striking the string with a small stick that is held in the right hand.

Construction: Similar to the berimbau of Brazil in both playing techniques and construction. It is a single stringer bow that has a calabash or gourd attached near the centre of the bow.

Citations: Bibliography: K. Lee, Jacques 1990 – Sega: the Mauritian folk dance ; Indiana University. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-9511296-1-6. Retrieved 2009-07-31 ; James Porter; Timothy Rice ; Chris Goertzen 1999 ; The Garland encyclopedia of world music. Indiana University: Taylor & Francis. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8240-4946-1. Retrieved 2009-07-31 ;


Name: Lesiba.
Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Braced > Mouth.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 311.121.222
Country: South Africa.
Region: Africa.

Description: The lesiba is the national instrument of the Basotho, a southern African people, now located primarily in South Africa and Lesotho and the Khoikhoi people of South Africa. The lesiba is played mostly by herdsmen and herdboys to give signals and instructions to their cattle and almost as much, for their own entertainment.

Though a very few people alive today play this instrument. The harsh birdlike sounds of the instrument are so well recognized among the Sotho that it is used on Lesotho Radio to signal the start of the news broadcast.

Etymology: The word lesiba is Tswana for feather, the term is adopted in Sotho. It is also called gora or goura [in Khoisan, for a type of bird. This term has also been adapted by the Xhosa and Zulu] are members of a class of “unbraced mouth-resonated bow’s”.

Playing Techniques: Holding both hands around the quill, positioned without touching just inside the lips, the player sharply inhales or exhales against it, creating vibration in the string. This “produces a powerful buzzing sound,” usually in short notes on a small, limited scale.

Inhalation excites the harmonics of the string, while exhalation is most often accompanied by a throaty grunt. Except in players with strong breath, and may be accompanied by humming. Vocalizations are created by the musician performing the lesiba for effect. The harmonics used are primarily the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth.

Acoustics: According to Borrow in 1806, the instrument sounds “like the faint murmurs of distance music that comes over the ear. Without any distinction of notes. Barnard in 1910 noted the loudness of the instrument, while Alberti in 1810 compared the sounds to the “tones of the so-called Hunting-horn,” presumably a reference to the shared use of the harmonic series.

According to Kirby in 1934, “the tone is, very pleasant when well produced, partaking of the qualities of both string and wind, reminding one of the Aeolian harp; and it can be varied in power from a faint whisper to a strong, vibrant sound, the air column of the mouth and throat acting as a resonator”.

Construction: Having a flattened quill attached to a long string, the string is stretched over a hard stick. Acting as the main source of Vibration. At the other end, in some areas, is a coconut shell resonator, with a tension noose wrapped around the string to adjust the pitch. The lesibas construction is unique: “no other class of stringed-wind instrument has been found anywhere else in the world.

Citations: Bibliography: Percival Kirby 2009 – “The Gora, a Stringed-wind Instrument” The World of South African Music: A Reader, p.36.  Lucia, Christine; ed. Cambridge. ISBN 1904303366 ; Coplan, David B. 1994 – In the Time of Cannibals: The Word Music of South Africa’s Basotho Migrants, p. 203. University of Chicago ISBN 9780226115740 ;


Name: Chipendani.
Type: Chordophones > Idiochords > Bow > Mouth > Braced.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 311.121.12
Country: Zimbabwe.
Region: Africa.

Description: The chipendani is a plucked bow of the Shona and Ndebele peoples of Zimbabwe. It is a self-entertainment instrument once played by young boys herding cattle or as accompaniment for long foot journeys and as a courtship instrument. The chipendani is heard less and less today. Modern western popular music has caused a decline in the use and manufacture of the chipendani. It is now rarely found even in rural areas.

Construction: The chipendani bow is made from a single length of wood. At the centre of the bow, a handle is carved in a diameter that is close to the original stock of wood. From the handle to each end of the bow. The stock is reduced to two flat blades extending outwards on either side.

A metal wire is held in tension by tying it to each end of the flexed bow. One end of a short length of cotton cord is then tied to the wire at a point that divides the wire into two unequal segments. This chord functions as a sliding nut, by dividing the main playing string into two halves.

Citations: Bibliography: Paul F. Berliner, 1981. The Soul of Mbira—Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ; H. Ellert. 1984 ~ The Material Culture of Zimbabwe. Harare: Longman Zimbabwe ; Jones, Claire 1992. Making Musical Musical Instruments of Zimbabwe Past and Present, Harare: Academic Books Zimbabwe ; Turino, Thomas. 1993 ; Earth and Spirit–Music of Zimbabwe – Cassette with liner notes. Record and Tape Promotions L4 VA 100 ; Kaemmer, John E. 1998. “Music of the Shona of Zimbabwe.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.1. ed. Ruth M. Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 744-758 ; Kyker, Jennifer W 2007 Chipendani Music from Zimbabwe by Compound Muradzikwa. CD with liner notes. Hungwe Records 884502106251: Sayce, Katherine, ed. 1987. s.v. “Music, Traditional.” Encyclopedia Zimbabwe. Harare: Quest Publishing ; 2000. Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ; Websites: Chipendani / Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection ;


An idiochord [Latin: idio – “self”, chord – “string” also known as a drum zither] is a musical instrument in which the “string” of the instrument is made from the same material as its resonating body. Such instruments may be found in the Indian Ocean region, disparate regions of Africa and its diaspora, and parts of Europe and North America.

Bamboo is often a popular material for idiochords: a tube of bamboo may be slit to loosen portions of the husk at the middle, leaving them attached at the ends, and these “strings” may be raised up by inserting sticks to serve as bridges. Such bamboo idiochords include the valiha of Madagascar, the kulibit in the Philippines and Indonesia, and the karaniing of the Mon-Khmer “Orang Asli” tribal peoples of Malaysia. A massive one-string bamboo idiochord, the benta, is native to Jamaica and played with a slide, much like a diddley bow.

Idiochords are also made from other materials; cornstalk was used in North America to make the cornstalk fiddle, and the same instrument was played in the Carpathians and in Serbia as the gingara or djefje guslice. In Eastern New Guinea, one-string idiochords are made from the rib of the sago palm. The Warao people of Venezuela and Guyana create a monochord idiochord by raising up a fibre from an eta leaf.

Various idiochords are found in mainland Africa, including the akadingidi of Uganda and the one-string mpeli of the Mpyeme people of Congo and the Central African Republic.