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The chitarra battente (Italian: lit. "beating guitar") also known as "chitarra italiana" is a musical instrument, a chordophone of the lute family. At a casual glance, it is similar to the everyday classical guitar, but larger and typically strung with five double steel strings. Nowadays it is typically used by folk musicians, mainly in the southern Italian regions of Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata, and Campania, as well as in other areas of southern Italy; in past centuries the instrument was found in most of central and southern Italy.
The people of the area consider it a folk instrument, though it may have non-folk origins as an import from elsewhere centuries ago. Musicologists refer to the "historical" as well as the "folk" chitarra battente; the latter is the one folk musicians in southern Italy mean when they refer to the instrument. There are versions of the historical 17th instrument in museums, but the commonly played folk instrument comes in three sizes: small, medium, large. The medium and large instruments are the most popular; the small instrument is a toy and has traditionally been used to train children to play (much as quarter- and half-sized violins are used).
Locals refer to the instrument, simply, as the "guitar," using the term “French guitar” for what is general called elsewhere “guitar,” meaning the classical guitar. The instrument also may have five or four courses of strings. (A “course” is a string or strings played as a single unit. A mandolin, for example, has eight strings, but they are arranged in close-spaced pairs, and each pair is fingered and plucked simultaneously, as if ithe pair were a single string -- thus, it is an eight-string, four-course instrument.) The chitarra battente, then, would be a four-string, four-course instrument. There are also versions of the chitarra battente that are 10-string, 5-course, meaning that the ten strings are grouped into five close-spaced pairs.
There is great variation in the size of the bouts (the rounded “hourglass” curves of the body of the instrument), kinds of wood, shape of the back, decorations, number of frets, etc. The strings are tuned in what is called a “re-entrant” system; that is, unlike a modern classical guitar, the progression from the bottom string to the top string does not simply go up in pitch, progressively. Here, in the four-string instrument, the third string (from the bottom) is lower than the second. Thus, a typical tuning of the four-string chitarra battente, bass to treble, is A-D-B-E, where the third string, the B, is lower than the second string, the D.
The instrument is played without a plectrum, and the fingers achieve a wide range of effects through plucking, strumming, beating the strings or the sound board, etc. The chitarra battente is typically used to accompany singing or dancing and can be played in an ensemble or as a solo instrument. The most important center of production is in Bisignano in the province of Cosenza. Traditionally the instrument has been made locally in the region from which its characteristics derive, often being constructed by non-professional craftsmen or simple carpenters.
Tucci, Roberta and Antonello Ricci. (1985). "The Chitarra Battente in Calabria". The Galpin Society Journal (vol. 38, Apr. 1985): 78-105.
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