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Glossary of Percussion Instruments

Berimbau: In Africa, the berimbau, or musical bow, is primarily
used as a solo instrument, but is also used as an ensemble instrument in Brazil,
where it is employed in capoeira and samba music. The Brazilian berimbau usually
comprises a 56-inch long wooden pole bent by a single metal string with a gourd
resonator tied around both pole and string near one end. The bow is held in one
hand and the string is struck with a small stick in the other. The stick hand
also holds a small rattle made of woven grass or vine. The player also holds a
coin or stone, which is used to stop the string, thus producing two main tones.
Berimbau rhythms alternate between high and low tones, with a third “buzz”
tone produced by holding the coin lightly against the string and then hitting
near it.

Guiro: a Latin American percussion instrument made of a hollow
gourd with a grooved or serrated surface, played by scraping with a stick or

Djembe: a cup-shaped wooden drum stringed with goat skin.
The Djembe (or jembe) derives itself from West Africa, where it is used not
just for listening, but for dancing. Dances done to djembe drumming are communal
events, involving celebrations of marriage, coming into adulthood or clearing
a field. Djembe patterns are mostly made up of three tones, although more are
possible, and various phonetic systems are used to speak the tones.

Shekere: The history of these gourds, which are covered with
woven, beaded webbing, begins in Africa where it serves as a shaker, a rattle
and a drum. The instrument is played by shaking or twisting it to get shaker
and rattle sounds or by hitting the bottom of the body with the palm of the
hand to get drum like bass notes.

Surdo: Brazilian bass drums used in mainly in samba music,
worn around the neck and played with a beater in the right hand and open left
hand strokes. A surdo gives a strong full bass tone.

Tabla: Also known as the right hand drum, the tabla (or dahina)
comes from India and is a conical, almost cylindrical, drum shell carved out
of a solid piece of hard wood. The shell has one open end, covered by a composite
membrane. The base of the drum has a slightly larger diameter than the top.
The bayan, or left hand drum, is a hemispherical bowl shaped drum made of polished
copper, brass, bronze or clay. Both drums stand about 25 centimeters high.

Taiko: “Taiko” often refers to the modern art
of Japanese drum ensembles, but the word actually refers to the drums themselves.
Literally, taiko means “fat drum,” although there is a vast array
of shapes and sizes of the inherently round taiko. Within the last 50 years
since kumi-daiko was created, it Taiko has seen phenomenal growth in the past
50 years; there are purportedly more than 8,000 taiko groups in Japan alone.
A wide variety of taiko drums are used in Japan, including instruments with
tacked heads and others with heads that are laced to the body. Styles range
from rustic, usually for folk music, to highly ornate, for imperial court music.

Timbale: shallow cylindrical single-head drums similar to
tom-toms. The shells are made of metal and the heads are light and tuned fairly
high. Timbales were invented in the early 20th century as a more portable replacement
for the standard timpani that was being used in Afro-Cuban orchestras. Traditionally
a pair of timbales is mounted on a stand and played standing, using light drumsticks.
Head diameters range from 12 to 16 inches, with a pair normally differing in
size by one inch.