Wind Instruments

Below are various wind-based musical instruments


SunprinuThis instrument is a conical tube made of hazelnut tree bark. The upper end is flattened to form the mouthpiece for each of the two reeds. The sunpriñu has two holes to vary the tone. The player blows on the mouthpiece while using the index fingers of both hands to cover and uncover the two holes in order to create the melody.

In Euskal Herria there are two instruments of this type, the sunpriñu being the variety made of hazel bark. It has fallen into disuse today and is virtually unknown. The last sunpriñu players were shepherds from the Larraun valley in Navarra, who would take their sheep to graze on the slopes of Mount Aralar. It has been confirmed that the instrument was played up until the Civil War in 1936, and is also known to have been played on occasion subsequent to that date.

Since the instrument has two holes, three-note melodies can be played. The most common melody played was called a "Durunbele", with each musician free to interpret the tune as he liked, some playing a quick version, sprinkling the tune with chirping sounds, and others preferring a slower rendition, emitting more sustained notes. Listeners were very familiar with the different versions.


txanbelaThis double-reed instrument is much like the gaita-dulzaina, quite well-known in the Basque Country, although a little smaller. The reeds were made of cane, horn and plastic (as they ended up being made by Caubet). The tube is cone-shaped and made of boxwood. It is shorter than the dulzaina, approximately the length of where the so-called "oreja" (ear) holes are on the dulzaina (which the txanbela lacks). Also like the dulzaina, the txanbela has eight holes for varying the tone-seven on the front (the last of which is off to the side so it is more easily reached with the little finger), and one on the upper back.

The txanbela has maintained its particular early Basque music style and flavour, and is today one of the oldest, if not indeed the oldest, forms of music still present today in our repertory of folk songs. The txanbela is therefore not only a musical instrument but also a way of making music. An expression used in the Zuberoa region refers to this special style: "txanbela bezala ari da kantatzen" (He/she sings like a txanbela).


dultzainaThe dulzaina-gaita is made up of a double-reed mouthpiece comprising two cane reeds joined to the tube by a curved metal crook, which directs the vibrations of both reeds to the tube; and an irregular shaped conical tube (the wider part a the bottom), usually made of wood, most commonly boxwood. At the end of the nineteenth century, the metal dulzaina began being made in Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia. The instrument became very popular (particularly in Bizkaia). For this reason many people consider the "dulzaina vizcaína" a synonym for the metal dulzaina.

Eight holes vary the tone of this instrument, seven on the front and one on the upper back. The furthest hole from the mouthpiece is set off to one side so that it can be more easily covered with the little finger (some of the older dulzainas do not have this hole, and therefore can play one less note). All dulzainas have two holes at equal points on either side, marking the end of the melody-making part of the tube.

Although most of time it is accompanied by the drum, the tambourine has also been used as musical accompaniment (P. Donostia, 1952). And since the appearance of the diatonic accordion, this instrument is also often played with the dulzaina.

We are unaware of exactly how old this instrument is. We do know however that for at least a hundred years two kinds of dulzaina music, much the same as the development of the txistu, have been in existence-rural dwellers with no formal music training, and city people who have had formal music training. This time we will refer to the former group.
In rural environments musicians learned and played by ear, playing their music in village processions. The repertory, for the most part, consisted of fandangos, jotas, arin-arin, porrusalda, marches and popular folk songs. Beginners learned by listening to dulzaina players at home or in the neighbouring villages. When they were then able to play on their own, they would pick up new songs by ear.

Gaita Navarra (Dultzaina)

gaita navarraThe mouthpiece, tube and holes for varying the tone are much the same as the dulzaina. In addition, this ancient instrument has another component, a metal chain. Some of these instruments have a kind of metal chain attached on the lower side, where the tube and the mouthpiece are joined.

As we have observed in old documents, the gaita-dulzaina was used since antiquity throughout Euskal Herria. In those written documents it was not always clear what instrument was being referred to with the word "gaita", the dulzaina or the xirolarru. For this reason, we shall only use sources which clearly distinguish the two.

In the list of musicians making an appearance at the Pamplona festivities in the eighteenth century, the dulzaina and the gaita are cited several times. (J. Ramos, 1990).
With very few exceptions, in Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia dulzaina players had very little contact with the world of formal music; however, in Alava and Navarra, dulzaina players were often the product of music schools, and it was not uncommon for them to also have played other instruments associated with musical bands or orchestras.

In towns and cities the sound of this instrument would set the early morning rhythm on feast-days, accompanying masquerade parades of "gigantes" and "cabezudos", and filling town squares with their concert and dance music.

Navarrese gaita players or "gaiteros navarros" have widely acclaimed for ages, even beyond the confines of Navarra. In the urban areas of Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, dulzaina players from Navarra (from the town of Estella, for example) would be brought in for the more important feast-days, even when "dulzaineros from neighbouring villages" were available.

The repertory of these musicians, just like that of the city-dwelling txistularis, is varied and reflects the styles of the period. It is easy to see that the gaita players adopted the foreign rhythms and melodies in fashion at the time. Therefore, in addition to native music and rhythms, in their repertory we find sonatas, polkas, mazurkas, habaneras, rigodones, pasodobles, schottisches, etc.

Dulzaina music seems to have reached its peak in the nineteenth century, judging by the music written by Estella composer Julián Romano (1831-1899). Very few gaita-dulzaina players today are able to do justice to this music. A period of decline started in the early twentieth century, and by mid-century the gaita players were scarce, essentially found only in the Estella area. In the Seventies the Lakunza brothers, born in Navarra but residents of Bilbao, were the instigators of what was to become an upswing in the gaita's popularity. Using all their knowledge and all the information they had compiled over years and year of research, they began teaching and promoting the creation of new groups. In 1968 they published the first book on how to play the gaita. Groups soon sprung up all over the Basque Country. A number of them are solid autonomous groups dedicated to playing music, as well as teaching, carrying out research and fomenting the popularity of the instrument.

Xirularru (bota, gaita, bagpipes)

Xirularru - Herrimusika.orgThis instrument consists of a metal tube, a drone, an air bag and a blowpipe. Written documents and a number of iconographic records from different places throughout Euskal Herria give witness to the use of instruments of this type both in the Basque Country, as well as surrounding regions.

We do not know just how common this instrument was, since often times it is not clear whether the word "gaita" appearing in early documents refers to the "dulzaina" or to xirolarru type instruments. However we do know that in Rioja Alavesa xirolarru instruments were played. A document dating to 1611 from the town of Oyón states that "...The gaitero was paid seventy-seven duros (a duro is a five-peseta coin) for playing the 'bota' at the feast of the Immaculate Conception." We believe that "bota" was the word used to describe the air bag, which looked very much like a "bota", or wineskin. Padre Donostia has this to say: "... It appears that in the late-eighteenth, early-nineteenth century the tamboril was not played in some parts of Alava. In the south of Alava the 'gaita gallega' (Galician bagpipe) is played instead." (Donostia, 1952) In some towns in the Rioja region this instrument was heard as recently as the Twenties. As a result of the in-depth research and reconstruction work carried out by a group of local researchers, we can once again see, play and enjoy the sound of the xilolarru.





Buy Your Commemorative T-shirt Today!


Foku Musikala