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What Is a Rondalla?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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A rondalla is an ensemble of stringed instruments that are played with a plectrum or pick. They originated in Spain but became most popular in Philippine folk music after their introduction to the islands during the 19th century. Philippine instruments are made of native wood and played with a tortoise-shell plectrum.

The word "rondalla" is from the Spanish ronda, meaning "serenade." The core instruments of Spanish ensembles are the guitar, the mandolin, and the lute. Rondallas usually are accompanied by at least one singer and sometimes by percussionists playing handheld instruments. Though ensembles of stringed instruments have existed in some form in Spain since at least the 16th century, this form dates from the early 19th century, and it soon thereafter traveled to the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony at the time.

In the Philippines

Early Philippine rondallas played Western European songs, mostly operatic arias and symphonic overtures. Although they still play such songs, the repertoire has become much more diverse. Modern ensembles might play more contemporary music, such as show tunes and Latin American dance music, in addition to Philippine folk songs and European classical music. It is a socially important form of folk art seen at community events such as weddings and fiestas.

The Instruments

The major Philippine rondalla instruments are the banduria, the guitar, the octavina, the laud, and the bass guitar or double bass. The banduria is the central instrument of the ensemble and, along with the octavina and laud, is unique to the Philippines. The guitar and double bass each have six strings, but the other instruments have 14 strings grouped into six tuning units to produce a richer sound.

Eight-piece Philippine ensembles typically have four bandurias, one guitar, an octavina, a laud and a double bass. Many groups are quite large, with 30 or 40 members, especially for important social events. A 30-piece ensemble usually has 16 bandurias, three piccolo bandurias, three guitars, three octavinas, three lauds and two double basses. Of course, the number and type of percussion instruments can vary for any size of rondalla.

Popularity through the Years

During the 1960s, rondallas were extremely popular in the Philippines, and they regularly competed with each other on television and radio programs. The bands received funding from schools, government officials and business moguls, all of whom tried to have the best ensemble. The popularity of these groups in the Philippines has waned somewhat in the late 20th and early 21st century, but groups based in other countries, including the United States and Japan, help keep the tradition alive.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a Musical Expert editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By anon110391 — On Sep 11, 2010

Rondallas have a spanish origin. these musical groups are spread all through latin america. The Philippine islands have a tradition of these groups thanks to spanish occupation.

By chrisinbama — On Jul 26, 2010

@snowywinter: I have also heard of another origin of the rondalla. It has been said that it was a musical group playing rondalla songs and that it was called comparza.

Another version of the origin is that it was a typical music group who played around the universities in Spain. They played mandolins, violins, guitars, flutes, cellos, basses, tambourines, castanets, and triangles.

By SnowyWinter — On Jul 26, 2010

Rondalla music is a huge and distinct contribution to the musical culture of our nation. The origin of the rondalla is questionable.

One version is that in the beginning, there was a group of young men who went in front of houses regularly to play and sing.

Another version is that it was a group of musicians who were begging for alms.

Niki Acker

Niki Acker


"In addition to her role as a Musical Expert editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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