Brazilian Musical Instruments

Brazilian Music is full of Passion, Energy and Enthusiasm, a wide variety of Brazilian Musical Instruments gives the music a very special and unique sound. The very first musical instruments used in Brazil were flutes, whistles , horns  and rattles along with some hands clapping and feet stomping.

Then over the last several hundred years, music instruments from various countries have influenced Brazil’s music styles and sounds. Off all the several different musical instruments used to make beautiful music, we highlight here some of the most popular and well-known Brazilian musical instruments used in dances and religious ceremonies.



All about Brazilian Musical Instruments:


Brazilian Musical InstrumentsBerimbau – An African music instrument, the Berimbau is best known for its role in capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art form. A brazil percussion instrument, this Brazilian musical instrument is made from a wooden bow which is about 4 to 5 feet long (1.2 to 1.5 m), a steel string and a gourd.

After tightly securing the steel string to the wooden bow from one end to the other, the gourd is attached to the bow. The Berimbau is played with the help of a small thin stick, which is called a varreta. The tone of berimbau varies from low, medium to high, as it does not depend on the size of the gourd or  the length of the bow, rather on the diameter and hardness of the bow’s wood and the quality of the gourd. Every part of the Berimbau has its unique role in the music and the rhythm it produces. You will see the Berimbau in all the Capoeira dance performances.



atabaque drumAtabaqueThe Atabaque is a hand drum and has a Afro-Brazilian origin. Read more about Brazilian Drums here. There are three types of atabaque drums.

The tallest of the three is called the Rum, which produces a low sound. The medium is called the Rum-Pi and it produces a medium percussion sound while the smallest atabaque drum is called the Le, which produces a high percussion sound. Calfskin is used to stretch over the top of the drum.  The drum is surrounded at the top or head and toward the bottom of the drum by metal rings. Roping is stretched between these two metal rings which can be tightened or loosened to adjust the pitch of the drum. In between the bottom metal ring and the drum wedges of wood are fitted tightly, which also do affect the sound of the drum.



Brazilian guitar InstrumentCavaquinhoThe Cavaquinho is a small guitar-style instrument. Cavaquinhos are made from wood and are outfitted with four wire strings. This small brazilian guitar type instrument is used often in Samba and Chorinho style music. When people see the Cavaquinho the first time, they think it looks like the Ukulele.





Cuica – the brazilian music instrument that sounds like a monkey


Other Types of Brazilian Musical Instruments:

Pandeiro brazilian music instrumentPandeiro – A pandeiro is a type of hand frame drum popular in Brazil and is played by holding it in one hand and striking its head with the other hand to make music.  To create high or low pitches the head of a pandeiro can be adjusted. The pandeiro is surrounded with metal jingles that also can be shaken to produce sound. Different pandeiro patterns are played by alternating the thumb, fingertips and palm of the hand. Pandeiro is usually used in samba, choro, coco, and capoeira styles of brazilian music.




alfaia brazil music instrumentAlfaia – The Alfaia is a wooden drum which is made of animal skin that is tensioned or loosened through ropes placed alongside the body of the instrument. Macaiba wood is used to create the shell of these alfaia drum. Calfskin or goatskin is stretched over the head of the drum which is held securely in place with round wooden hoops. The Alfaia has a very deep, heavy sound different from other bass drums and they are mainly used in the northeastern folk rhythms and dances of Brazil, such as Ciranda, Maracatu and Coco-de-roda.




GanzaThe Ganza is cylindrical shaped music instrument made from plastic, metal or hand-woven basket materials. It’s filled with beads, metal balls, pebbles, or other similar items to create a unique shaker instrument.

They are usually used to play a rhythm underneath the rest of the band. Years ago the Ganza was brought to Brazil by African slaves and now is often played in samba music as an undertone.



Another Classic Video, where you can see a lot of Brazilian Musical Instruments ( Percussion Instruments ) in action is this Michael Jackson video, ( song: “they dont care about us” ) filmed in in Brazil, San Salvador de Bahia, at Pelhourino, with the famous Olodum band, percussion etc…Pop Music with lots of Brazilian Drums.. you can feel the energy people have in Brazil.



What instruments are used in samba?

A brazilian samba band has usually snare drums (Caixa), Tamborins, Agogo bells, Surdos, Ganzás or Chocalho (shakers), Cuíca, Timbal, Pandeiro, & Repinique.  At the beginning a samba band plays some whistles to give a beat, often played by the leader.

Samba bands you know from the carnival music, that is played by the samba schools of rio de Janeiro. Stringed guitars and other instruments have been added to the bands over the years. In other countries samba bands play more popular rythem like reggae, hip hop, and brazilian folk music. For around 300 Euros/Dolars you can get a set of drums


Here are 4 more – lesser known Brazilian Musical Instruments.

    1. Agogo – The agogo is the oldest known Brazilian Musical Instrument used to create Samba music. Originally wrought iron, now used throughout the world, modern agogo is manufactured from many metals and consists of either a single or multiple bells of different sizes. Each bell is of different size and shape which allows a differently pitched note to be produced depending on which bell has been hit. The most common arrangement is two bells attached by piece of metal shaped like the letter U. A wooden stick is used to hit either bell to make a cowbell like sound or a clicking sound is produced by squeezing the two bells together.


    1. Repinique – A repinique is a two-headed Brazilian drum which sounds very much like the tenor drums that are used in marching bands and in samba baterias (percussion ensembles). It is a lead and solo instrument as it is tuned very high to produce a tone that sounds separate from the rest of the ensembles. In Rio-style samba it is played with one wooden stick and one hand and in Bahia it is played with two wooden sticks.


    1.  Skekere – The shekere is an instrument originated in West Africa, consisting of a large dried gourd with beads woven into a net covering the gourd, which is shaken or hit against the hands to create music. The shekere is made from vine gourds that grow on the ground. The sound of the instrument is determined by the shape of the gourd. After drying the gourd for several months, the pulp and seeds are removed to make a shekere. After it is scrubbed, skillful bead work is added as well as color.


    1. Tamborim – A tamborim is a small, round frame drum of Portuguese and African origin without snares or jingles, which is used in many styles of Brazilian music. The drum made of metal, wood, or plastic. The head is typically made of nylon and in order to ensure a high, sharp timbre and a minimum of sustain it is normally very tightly tuned. In most musical styles, the tamborim is played with a small drumstick ( wood drumstick ). It is also played with a beater made of several flexible nylon strings or threads bound together. On rare occasions, it may be played with the fingers.


Do you know of another Brazilian Music Instrument? Please let us know in the comments.

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