Instruments for Brazilian Rythyms

Below are a few instruments widely used to make Brazilian rythyms in music.

Pandeiro – How to Shake It

The pandeiro is a type of hand frame drum commonly found in many types of Brazilian music.

Much like the distinctions between the ukelele and the cavaquinho, there are two important distinctions between a pandeiro and the common tambourine. The tension of the head on the pandeiro can be tuned, allowing the player a choice of high and low notes. Also, the platinelas (metal jingles) are crisper, drier and less sustained on pandeiros than on the tambourine. This provides clarity when swift, complex rhythms are played.

It is held in one hand, and struck on the head by the other hand to produce the sound. Typical pandeiro patterns are played by alternating the thumb, fingertips, heel, and palm of the hand.

A pandeiro can also be shaken to make sound, or one can run a finger along the head to create a “rasp” noise. The pandeiro is used in a number of Brazilian music forms, such as Samba, Choro, Coco and Capoeira music (see Capoeira songs).

Some of the best-known pandeiro players today are Paulinho Da Costa, Airto Moreira, Marcos Suzano, and Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro.


In the video below, a percussion major at Northwestern University, give a great description of the pandeiro and how to play a basic beat.

If you are looking for a little more information while still focusing on the basics, Cassio Duarte has some tips for you.

Berimbau – Afro-Brazilian Rythyms

The berimbau is a single-string percussion instrument, a musical bow, from Brazil. The berimbau’s origins are not entirely clear, but there is not much doubt on its African origin, as no Indigenous Brazilian or European people use musical bows, and very similar instruments are played in the southern parts of Africa. The berimbau was eventually incorporated into the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira (which I will speak about in a later post), where it commands how the capoeiristas move in the roda (circle). The instrument is known for being the subject matter of a popular song by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. Below is a short intro. to the aesthetic history of the berimbau.

Cuica – Strange Sound in the Samba

The Cuíca (pronounced KuWEE-kah) is a Brazilian friction drum often used in samba music. The tone it produces has a high-pitched squeaky timbre which is why it has been called a ‘laughing gourd’ and even the ‘lion’s roar’ due to its deeper sound.

The body of the cuíca is normally made of metal. It has a single head, normally made of animal skin. A thin bamboo stick is attached to the centre of, and perpendicular to, the drum head. To play the cuíca, the musician rubs the stick up and down with a wet cloth held in one mão (hand), using the thumb of the other hand to press down on the skin of the drum near the place where the stick is attached. The rubbing motion produces the sound and the pitch is increased or decreased by changing the pressure on the thumb.

The cuíca plays an important rhythmic role in samba music of all kinds. It is particularly notable as a fixture of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival groups, which feature entire sections of cuíca players. It is so commonly used in radio-oriented samba music that in the absence of a cuíca player, Brazilian singers or other musicians imitate the sound of the cuíca with their voices.

Examples of the cuíca in popular non-Brazilian music include:

  • Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
  • Beck’s “Tropicalia”
  • Barenaked Ladies’ “Enid”
  • Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved”
  • Jamiroquai’s “Music of the Mind”
  • Dido’s “Thank You”
  • Stevie Wonder’s “Bird Of Beauty”

I find it always interesting what wealth of intruiging information I am able to find by reading about things in their language of origin, in this case Portuguese. Upon reading the English Wikipedia article on the Cuíca, I found the above information, but by reading just a few sentences from the Portuguese Wikipedia article, I found this…

“A cuíca é um instrumento cujas origens são menos conhecidas do que os outros instrumentos afro-brasileiros. Ela foi trazida ao Brasil por escravos africanos Banto, mas ligações podem ser traçadas a outras partes do nordeste africano, assim como à península Ibérica. A cuíca era também chamada de “rugido de leão” ou de “tambor de fricção”. Em suas primeiras encarnações era usada por caçadores para atrair leões com os rugidos que o instrumento pode produzir.”

The cuíca is an intrument whose origins are less known than the other Afro-Brazilian instruments. It was brought to Brazil by African slaves from the Banto tribe, but connections can be traced back to other parts of Northeastern Africa, and even the Iberian Penninsula. The cuíca was also called “the roar of the lion” or “the friction drum”. In it’s first incarnations, it was used by hunters to attract lions with the sounds it can produce.

Cavaquinho – Cousin to the Ukelele

The cavaquinho or little cavaco (piece of firewood) is part of the small string European guitar family. It’s cousin to the ukelele (or “jumping flea” in Hawaiian), differing only by certain small modifications made when brought to Brazil from Hawaii. The ukelele in turn was brought to Hawaii from Portugal. The cavaquinho is mainly used in Samba music.

7 thoughts on “Instruments for Brazilian Rythyms

  1. E o legal é que um berimbau na Bahia, um de porte médio-pequeno, custa até 5 reais. É muito fácil de encontrar pelas ruas do centro histórico, e é tido como uma arma branca.

  2. Can you tell me what kind of cloth is used to play the cuica? I saw a youtube video that looked like they we’re using a damp kitchen sponge. I just ordered 3 different cuica’s, having never played one. I understand it’s more difficult than it appears, and would like to start in the right direction. Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Ok, well, I had a minute and it seems you play it by placing the left hand on the leather part, (probably using pressure) to change the sound, while you use the other hand to play with the rod inside of it, but make sure that hand is damp (vaseline works according to what I read), then move the damp hand back and forth to make it play (make sound). I’m sure a damp sponge in place of vaseline would work, too.

  3. Deine Beitraege faszinieren mich immer wieder, deshalb betrachte ich sie immer wieder mit Freuden an. Dein Stil gefaellt mir. Wo kann ich differenzierte Infos zu diesen Thema finden? Weist Du eine Homepage, die sich mit dem Thema beschaeftigt? Ich würde mich freuen, wenn Du mir da Infos geben koenntest. Ich habe bisher nichts gefunden.

  4. Pingback: Brazil instrument | Jezsez

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s