Charango’ing around La Paz…

29 Jul

Now there are three steps to learning a musical instrument in a foreign country or for me charango’ing around La Paz…

Here they are….

1: The “getting to know bit” aka picking an unusual instrument

2: The “fun bit” aka buying the instrument

3. The “hard bit” -aka playing the bloody thing…..

In a bit more detail….

1: The “getting to know bit”

This bit is actually almost as much fun as buying the instrument. So where did the inspiration come from for me to learn the charango of all things?

Well I was sitting in a vegetarian restaurant in Cochabamba and a man was playing the charango.

That was it…

Love at first sight…I had to play this beautiful (and portable!) instrument. (Had a bit of a notion at home to learn the acordian but never seemed to have time to do it).

I struck up some chat with the musician and found out that a charango would cost around fifty quid and (he lied) it was quite easy to play..he offered to take me to a market in Cochabamba to buy one but I thought I better sleep on this…is it a silly I mulled it over..

Then I arrived in La Paz..the first museum I visisted was the Museum of Musical Instruments and this place was packed full of charangos…moreover the guy who started the museum started it as a charango museum. They even do charango lessons in the museum itself…so that was it…this was THE place to learn charango….

Now,of course, I did not consider how many chords the charango has nor the complexity of moving my stubby little fingers overs its delicate strings.. That´s the boring bit of a new instrument and I only like the fun bits!

Next stop was firing in to buy my very own charango…

2: The “fun bit” aka buying the instrument

I love this part of any hobby.

It’s the part before you start the new hobby and are full of youthful optimism as to how this hobby will change your life. I’ve done it with most hobbies, be it cycling, beading or even badminton.  You get all the kit…it is shiny, new and beautiful.

Man this hobby is going to be THE ONE.

All those other silly hobbies, well, they were simply a precursor to this one, THE BIG ONE, the lifechanging one..THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR…

Buying the charango filled me with this same youthful optimism as all the other hobbies I’ve taken up in the past years…the anticipation, the I would soon have the hobby to beat all hobbies…

Asked around at a few places (including the museum) and got a recommendation of a charango shop. They all said the same place so there was no problem there.

Armed with a bundle of bolivianos I went to the shop and bought my very first portable music instrument.

Shop where I bought my charango

Shop where I bought my charango

Again it was love at first sight..

The guy in the shop even told me it had a professional string…just what I needed. Running through my head “camp fires will never be the same for me again!”

So now I had both the inspiration and the kit…time to learn how to play the thing….

3. The “hard bit” aka playing the bloody thing…..

Now this bit does not involve the words “love at first sight” although the first steps to learning a musical instrument in La Paz are surprisingly easy.  You just walk into music schools (I chose Helios in Calle America) and ask if you can take lessons.  They give you a price list..25 quid for an intensive course and then you decide when you want your lessons.  Piece of cake…

Or so it seemed….

But learning a music instrument here is pretty different.

The school has about 30 rooms and one teacher does the rounds of the rooms and then leaves you with some stuff to practise.  This means you get a very short amount of time with the teacher…not the best when learning an instrument from stratch.

Also things would be that little bit easier if you spoke the language. I don’t..and that said lesson one was a bit of a right off because I didn’t know how to ask the teacher how to read the notes…still I was holding the love of the life in my hands and what could be bad about that?

Things got a bit better after lesson four when in stepped a new teacher whose girlfriend spoke English and who was happy to translate the instructions for me..I mean which beginner Spanish speaker would know the words for “pluck with the index and the middle” and “strum with your hand relaxed”. This is specialist spanish!

Despite what the musician said in Cochabamba the charango is NOT that easy to learn though after about 8 lessons (one a day true intensive style) I can now play half a song slowly without the strumming bits which are too hard for now…

..and of course just having the charango has advantages…for example when playing it in a park (or even just holding it) people want to talk to you to ask you about your charango and your playing…If stuck you can strum it a few times and that’s it, you are a “charangista” which to be honest is one of the nicest things anyone has ever called me!!!

I will keep plucking away…and provide ear plugs to those sharing a dorm with me….

Me with the love of my life

Me with the love of my life


4 Responses to “Charango’ing around La Paz…”

  1. Marco D. July 29, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    So who do you love most, your dog Tenedor or your charango ?

    • angiemain July 29, 2010 at 1:55 am #

      You know I was thinking this as I typed my blog…if sitting in the park would I rather have Tenedor rubbing his nose into my legs to be patted or would I rather have my charango who does what you tell it and doesn’t nip my ankles….it is tough but it would have to be Tenedor…he remains one of the best people I have met while travelling and he was super funny…did you see the blog he wrote? And he is only 2 years’ old..he will be a top blogger by the age of 3! A

  2. CharangoStore October 1, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    Slowly but surely the charango is getting known by guitar-type players from all over the world. Yesterday 1600 charango players played together in the soccer stadium of Cochabamba, Bolivia and got into the Guinness Book of World Records. Events like this help spread the awareness of this magical instrument. Viva el charango!


    • angiemain October 1, 2010 at 1:51 am #

      That is amazing news!!! The last record was set by those at a music school in La Paz where I did some lessons. It is the best thing to travel with a charango! It is the love of my life to be honest! Still learning but truly love it. Spread the word wherever I go! Get it out at all sorts of places. The last one was on a boat down the Amazon…agreed vive el charango!!!!! Angie

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