The rondalla is an ensemble of stringed instruments played with the plectrum or pick and generally known as plectrum instruments. It originated in Medieval Spain, especially in Catalonia, Aragon, Murcia, and Valencia. The tradition was later taken to Spanish America and elsewhere. The word rondalla is from the Spanish ronda, meaning "serenade."
The rondalla has its origins in the folk playing bands from Spain (as well as 'New Spain', namely Mexico) that were forerunners of the present-day rondalla and included four types: groups of young men who played and sang regularly in front of homes, bands of musicians known as murza or murga who begged for alms, a group of musicians known as comparza who played on stage, and groups of university musicians known as estudiantina, dubbed “tuna”. The usual musical instruments used by estudiantina members were mandolins, violins, guitars, flutes, cellos, basses, tambourines, castanets, and triangles. Estudiantina musicians in Spain and Mexico, before and during the age of musical romanticism, wore 16th century attire such as "short velvet breeches, ornate shirts and a short cape with multicolored ribbons".
Some instruments used for the early rondalla were influenced by the Mozarab musical instruments of the time, including the guitars, flutes and vihuelas. Mandolins, castanets and tambourines were also used and today a full range of instruments can be heard, such as the Mexican vihuela, violins and cellos, marimbas, xylophones, harps, and timbales.
Today, rondallas are more modern and expressive, using lyrics that are vibrant, yet still keep with the traditional theme of melancholy love and evening serenades. Currently, there are many groups in Spain (such as 'La Rondalla Sierra Almijara' and 'La Rondalla de la Costera'), and Mexico (such as 'La Rondalla de Saltillo', 'La Rondalla Voces del Corazon') and United States ('La Rondalla del Sagrado Corazon' de Richmond) that carry on the tradition
The rondalla was introduced into the Philippines when it was part of the Spanish East Indies. In the early Philippines, certain styles were adopted by the natives, especially guitar and banduria used in the Pandanggo, the Jota, and the Polka. The use of the term comparza was common, however, during the American period in the Philippines, the term rondalla became more used.
Presently, the term in Filipino culture refers to any group of stringed instruments that are played using the plectrum or pick. The Filipino instruments are made from indigenous Philippine wood and the plectrum, or picks, are made from tortoise-shell. Other stringed instruments composing the standard Filipino rondalla are the bandurria, the laúd, the octavina, the Twelve-string guitar, the Ukulele, the bajo de uñas or double bass, the Guitarrón mexicano, and other Filipino-made instruments modeled and developed after the guitar. The Philippine rondalla’s repertoire include folk songs such as the collar de sampaguita, la bella filipina, No te vayas a Zamboanga, Balitaw, the Kundiman, the "Zarzuela", the "Subli", the "Harana", the "Tinikling", and the "Cariñosa".