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Microtonal tambura

A microtonal tambura is a tambura with added frets for microtonal intervals. The one used on the Erato album is a modified Macedonian tambura, a double-coursed, long-necked lute with four strings mostly tuned A-A, D-D. It is used to play melodies with or without using the lower string as a drone, or for accompaniment.

Characteristics and use

A normal, equal-tempered Macedonian tambura is already well-suited for the accompaniment of modal music, because its dyads (‘two-tone chords’) leave the necessary space for that music’s intricate melodies and intonation subtleties. The microtonal version combines a characteristic, powerful and hypnotic sound with the some of the tonal versatility of related non-tempered lutes played in the larger region, such as the Turkish bağlama saz, the Greek tambouras, the Albian çifteli and sharkia, and the Bosnian and Serbian šargija.

Not a new invention

The microtonal tambura is a new instrument in the sense that it is not an existing Balkan lute. Considering the roots of Balkan music however, it should rather be seen as the reinvention or approximation of a predecessor of the Macedonian tambura that must have existed before equal temperament came into use in the course of the early 20th century.

Formal description

└─  Chordophone (3)

└─  Composite chordophone (32)

└─  Lutes (321)

└─  Necked bowl lutes (321.321)

Playing range in standard tuning

  • A3 (220 Hz) – D6 (1174.66 Hz)

Related instruments

Microtonal tambura (Remco Busink, 1988/2019)

Macedonian tambura built in 1988 for Čalgija by the ensemble’s former member Remco Busink, who converted the instrument into a microtonal tambura in 2019 by modifying the fretboard. 

Similarly modified instruments

Especially guitars have been modified to play modal music. Notable examples include:

Microtonality may also occur in contemporary classical music, jazz rock, heavy metal and other avant-garde and experimental forms of Western music unrelated to the World’s modal traditions. Various instruments have been modified to play such repertoire.

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