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Athens street musician playing the sandouri


The cymbalum, cymbalom, cimbalom (most common spelling), ţambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl or santouri is a musical instrument found mainly in the Roma music of Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine. In Czechoslovakia it was also known as a Cimbal. It is related to the hammered dulcimer of Western Europe.


It probably evolved from harp-like instruments such as the lyra of the ancient Greeks. It is a form of the psalterion of Byzantine times, and some ethnomusicologists attribute the name, santouri, to the word psalterion. It is played with two "hammer-like" sticks whose ends are wrapped in cotten. These hammers are similar in function to the small hammers which strike the strings of a piano. The piano probably evolved from these early hammered dulcimer type instruments. The santouri tuning tends to be chromatic, and this works will with the Greek modes.

Another tuning used is the "tsimbalon" (cymbalum) tuning which was popularized in Hungarian and Romanian hammered dulcimers, around the 19th century; by the end of the century was quite widespread, taking over from the cobza. [1] In Wallachia and Muntenia it is used almost as a percussion instrument. In Transylvania and Banat, the style of play is more tonal, heavy with arpeggios.

The santouri is popular with both the mainland "koumbania" which might include klarino, violi, lavouto and santouri, and the island folk group which might include a violi, lavouto, and santouri. The percussive sound of the Santouri lends a strong, rhythmic element to the group, but it also plays the melodies and chordal accompaniments.

Santuri or Sanduri in Greece

The santur (also called santoor in India) spread throughout the world. It was not only modified by nomadic Roma people and brought to Eastern Europe and The Balkans, but it also appeared in many other cultures:

  • America: the Hammered Dulcimer
  • China: The Yangqin
  • Thai: The Kim
  • Germany: The Hackbrett


The small cymbalum is usually carried by the musician, using a strap around the player's neck and leaning one edge of the instrument against the player's waist. The cymbalum is played by striking two beaters against the strings.

In Hungary, a larger concert cymbalum, comparable in pitch range (and weight) to a small piano - but still played in the normal way with beaters - was first developed by József Schunda in the 1870s. It stands on four legs, has many more strings, and the later models had a damping pedal. [Prior to this, the player damped the strings by using his coat sleeves]. This instrument eventually found its way to districts of Romania because these were all part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

A small cymbalum was also later produced in Ukraine during the 1950s that came with attachable legs and dampers but could be carried more easily than a concert instrument. These instruments were produced by the Chernihiv factory which produced many types of folk instruments.



The instrument is known by different names in different countries and when played in different styles, roughly:

  • Greece: sandouri
  • Hungary: cimbalom
  • Slovakia: cimbal
  • Romania: ţambal
  • Belarus: tsymbaly (цымбалы)
  • Ukraine: tsymbaly (цимбали)
  • Russia: tsymbaly (цимбалы)
  • Slovenia: čembale
  • Klezmer & Jewish music: tsimbl