Instruments | Latin-American Percussion in the Samba Band

The music of Latin America combines influences from the traditional music of the African slaves transported between 1450 and the end of the nineteenth century, music from the Spanish and Portuguese colonial powers, and latterly, pop and jazz from North America.

Samba is an umbrella term describing an energetic style of dancing and drumming performed at the annual pre-Lent carnivals in Brazil in February and March, and across Europe and North America. With the abolition of slavery in South America in 1888, many black workers migrated to the cities, and lived in favelas (shanty towns) around the edges of the city. Samba developed as a popular style in the favelas and by 1917 the first samba record, On The Telephone, was released.

Samba Style

Depending on the number of performers, samba can vary in style. Typically, its style is two beats in a bar and a medium to fast tempo to encourage the dancers to keep moving. Samba relies on a characteristic batucada (rhythmic pattern), which is played by the bateria (percussion) in a samba band. There can be between 10 and 50 performers in the bateria, who work together to play the batucada, which comprises several short repeated rhythms that fit together to create a multilayered, interlocking pattern.

A samba piece will be constructed from chorus and verse sections, which use different combinations of the bateria, and provide opportunities for other instrumentalists, singers and dancers to perform. Samba music is played without notation and learned aurally. The structure of a piece is likely to vary in performance as performers extemporize solo sections within the basic structure of the music. The ensemble is directed by the mestre (master), who will play in the group and give signals to the performers using a whistle (apito).

Make-Up of a Samba Band

Typically a samba bateria will comprise a group of drums and a shaker (ganzá), scraper (reco-reco) and the agogo, a double- or triple-cone-shaped bell played with a metal or wooden stick. In ascending order of pitch, the drums are the surdo (bass drum), caixa (snare drum), cuíca (friction drum), tamborin (frame drum), and pandiero (tambourine).


The surdo is a double-headed cylindrical metal drum (40–50 cm/16–20 in diameter and 60 cm/24 in long) suspended from a harness worn by the player. The player uses a large padded drumstick and muffles the sound with their other hand. The surdo plays a pulse and is the heartbeat of the ensemble.


The caixa (20–30 cm/8–12 in diameter and 10 cm/4 in long) generally plays a continuous sixteenth-note rhythm with a syncopated accent pattern. The cuíca is a popular solo instrument, as it has a wide pitch range and unusual sound.

Tamborin and Pandeiro

The tamborin (15–20 cm/6–8 in diameter) and pandeiro (20–30 cm/8–12 in diameter) are frame drums. The tamborin does not have jingles and is played with a stick. The...

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Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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