Cuban percussion instruments and terms

A rhythmic pattern played on the timbales characteristic of the music style Danzon.

Sacred, doubled headed, hour glass shaped drums with hide heads. There are three drums in the set, the largest is the Iya, the middle sized drum is the Itotele and the smallest is the Okonkolo.

A conical shaped, wooden shell hand drum played in carnival music (Conga) from Santiago (eastern province of Cuba)

1. A double headed, hide skinned bass drum played in carnival music (Conga) with a beater in one hand and the other hand presses and releases the the skin underneath to produce muffle and open tones.
2. A term given to the beat on the ‘and of two’ in a bar.

A pair of small drums attached in the middle and played sat down with the drums held between the legs around the knee and calf. The smaller drum (macho) is often tuned very high so that the sound penetrates through the music and the larger drum hembra is lower in pitch. In many ways, it is the Cuban drum and a fundamental instrument played in styles such as Changui & Son. The basic rhythm is called Martillo (meaning hammer). In Salsa, it has the most freedom amongst the percussion section to embellish and vary its pattern adding colour to the music.

A drummer that plays bongos

The solo drum played in Abakua music. It is suspended over the player’s neck and shoulder with a strap so it can be played whilst moving.

A wooden shell drum with a single hide skin nailed at the top. It is the highest pitched drum in the Yuka drum ensemble originating from a Congolese tradition.

Meaning box. There are several sizes and shapes, each producing its own distinct sound. Some are sat on whilst playing the front and side surfaces, others, like Bongos, are small in size, held between the legs and used for soloing and there are also ones which have a square top and sides that taper in towards the bottom. These latter ones are played in a set with a one or more congas. It is originally associated with the slow Rumba style of Yambu. Is also heard in modern Rumba styles mixing with congas and bata drums and in some religious drumming as well.

A wooden shell drum with a single hide skin nailed at the top. It is the lowest pitched drum in the Yuka drum ensemble originating from a Congolese tradition. It is also a generic term used to describe the lowest drum, guiro (shekere) or cajon in an ensemble.

A large hand held cowbell played with a thick stick or mallet. In Cuban popular music, it is part of the Bongo player’s set up who switches to the bell during high dynamic sections of an arrangement such as montunos, horn solo & mambos.

Literally shells and sometimes referred to as Paila. The pattern played on both sides of the timbales or sometimes on the high drum shell while the other hand plays alternating muffled and open tones on the low drum head. The cascara pattern is most commonly played during low dynamic sections of an arrangement such as intros, verses. Piano & flute solos.

Usually either a hollowed out tube of bamboo or a flat piece of thin wood that is played on with a pair of sticks. The patterns played lock in with the clave or bell providing a solid, driving time line for the other instruments to synchronise with.
The term Cata is mostly associated with folkloric music and it is known as Gua Gua in Rumba.

See Campana.

Small cowbell attached to a post positioned in between the high and low timbale drums.

A bell, smaller than the Cha Cha Cha bell, played in Charanga music.

A pair of small wooden cylinders that produce a distinct tone when struck together and that play the claves rhythms. One clave, rests in the cupped palm of your hand while the other hand holding another clave swtrikes it in the middle. In a popular music ensemble, ones that produce a high pitch (usually known as Son Claves) are used so that its sound can cut through. In Rumba, the clave that is cupped in the hand often has a crescent shaped groove in the middle and it is bigger than the one that is used to strike it.

A set of bells for bata drums, traditionally brass, that wrap round the edge on both sides of the Iya

A single headed hide skinned drum, (Ngoma), derrived from the Yuka & Makuta drums of Congo/Bantu origin. Made from a hollowed out tree trunk with a hide skin nailed at the top these drums have evolved to include metal hardware and sometimes have fibreglass shells. In Cuba, a Conga drum is known as a Tumbadora. Generically in the West, conga drums have become the common term for Tumbadores. They are primarily hand drums but the thick skins allow for playing with sticks. They are typically around 30” in height and there are drums with different sized diameters in the range. From high to low, the common names given to a set of three drums is quinto, conga & tumba.

A drummer that plays congas (tumbadores)

A clay/resin type mixture attached around the center of a drum skin in order to produce more bass with warmer, clearer open tones. The mixture is slowly heated then pressed in until it holds then left to dry. It is used on bata drums, primarily on the large head of the Iya and sometimes the Itotele as well.

An alternative name for the cata.

Literally a hoe blade or sometimes just a flat piece of iron that is played with a large iron nail or bolt. It is used to play bell patterns and timelines in folkloric music such as Guiro and Bembe.

#1. A cylindrical gourd around 12” high, closed at the bottom end with grooves carved in and running down one side. Held in one hand, the player uses a thin stick to press along the grooves, producing long and short scrapes with up and down movements.

#2. A gourd with a net of beads and often played in a set of three, small, medium & large. Also known as chekere (shekere) or agbe. It is played held in the hands travelling from fingers to palm and palm to fingers with movements from side to side and up & down.

The middle sized drum in a set of bata.

The largest drum in a set of bata.

A set of twin bells played in Conga, Cuban carnival music

A large cowbell attached to a post positioned in between the high and low timbale drums. This bell is played during high dynamic sections of an arrangement such as montunos, mambos, monas and brass solos.

A term given to the alternating Palm/Finger movement that is played on the congas and which forms the basis of most patterns played in Cuban popular music. It is also an alternative name given to the Tumbao rhythm played on the congas.

Hand held rattles consisting of a handle with a closed ball or balloon shaped compartment attached to the top which can be made from several different types of material including wood, fibreglass or hide. The compartment is filled with beans or rice

Literally hammer. It is the name given to the basic pattern of the bongos. The rhythm states the pulse and it is played during low dynamic sections of the music such as intros, verses & piano solos. There are many variations and improvisations, known as repiques which are used to embellish and add colour to the music.

Metal shakers played in Rumba

A common term given to a lead drum such as the Iya in a bata drum ensemble.

A wooden shell drum with a single hide skin nailed at the top. It is the middle pitched drum in the Yuka drum ensemble originating from a Congolese tradition.

The smallest drum in a set of bata.

Another term for the Timbales, often referring to a pair of drums smaller than those normally played in an ensemble. Paila, like cascara, is also a term used to mean the playing of the shells of the timbales.

A common term given to the highest pitched drum, guiro (shekere) or cajon played in an ensemble.

High-pitched, solo drum in Rumba

A mid to low pitched drum played in Conga (Cuban carnival music)

The drum that is the first to enter a rhythm. For example, the high-pitched drum in Conga or the low-pitched drum in Rumba.

A set of frying pans played on the base with metal rods and used in Conga (Cuban carnival music)

A generic term for the middle-pitched drum, gurio (shekere) or cajon played in an ensemble.

see Guiro

A pair of single-headed, tuneable drums on a stand derived from the European tympani. They usually have steel shells and the drums are typically 15” & 14” or 14” & 13” in diameter. They are mostly played with sticks but there are patterns where a hand is used to play the low drum. Originally used by Charanga groups playing Danzon they now form a fundamental part of the basic percussion line up in a Salsa group. The typical set up includes Cha cha cha and Mambo cowbells and other accessories such as woodblock, cymbol, bass drum and snare can also be added.

A drummer that plays timbales

A smaller, higher pitched version of the timbales with drums that are usually 12” & 10” in diameter. Typically, they are used for soloing and are often added to the standard set to make a set of four drums.

The middle pitched drum played in Rumba

The middle pitched drum played in Rumba

A term used in the West for a low-pitched drum. For example, the two drums that are often played by a single person in a Salsa group are commonly known as Conga (mid-pitch) and Tumba (low-pitch).

See Congas

1. Term for the standard pattern played on the congas in Cuban popular music styles. This steady, driving rhythm often moves from a one drum pattern to a two drum pattern during the arrangement.
2. Term for the standard pattern played on the bass in Cuban popular music styles accentuating beats 2+ and 4.

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