Continuing on our journey through the world of Brazilian percussion, we are stopping at the Cuíca this month. We’ll touch on the basic set-up of the instrument, brief playing description, and a couple patterns to practice.
The Cuíca (kweekah) is a drum with one head on one side and is open on the other end. It has a stick that is attached to the head and runs through the body of the drum. There are several drums that are similar to this but are constructed differently. The most common to find in the friction drum category, as well as the most often confused, is the lion’s roar, however it is not set up the same way and is usually used in a different musical setting. The Cuíca is often made of metal and is tuned by tightening the nuts on the lugs of the drums (similar to a conga). The stick is usually made of bamboo.
The Cuíca is played by running a wet piece of cloth up and down on the stick while the other hand applies pressure to the head of the drum. Generally the stick is gripped with the right hand and the left hand is applying the pressure to the head. The hand applying pressure is changing the pitch. Pushing into the head next to the stick on the outside of the drum head raises the pitch of the drum. Use one finger to apply the pressure (usually the middle finger). The pitch is also controlled by how tight your grip is on the stick. The tighter you squeeze on the stick and push into the head with the other hand, the higher the pitch will be. The looser you grip the stick and the less pressure you apply to the head of the drum, the lower the pitch that will be produced. There can be a very wide range of pitches produced on a Cuíca. It is possible to achieve two octaves on some Cuícas.
The pitches produced on a Cuíca are often used to resemble the voice. You can find the Cuíca being used in Samba and, of course, in non-traditional realms such as contemporary jazz, some pop-socas, pop-rock tunes, and even funk. Patterns for the Cuíca can also create a rhythmic ostinato or groove. Following are some starting exercises to work on getting comfortable with the instrument. In traditional Escolas de Samba you will see the Cuíca being worn over the shoulder on a strap. Remember to be gentle when gripping the stick on the inside of the drum as it is fragile. It is also important to practice getting the same sound when you are rubbing the cloth towards the inside of the drum as you do when rubbing the cloth towards the outside of the drum. When playing the following exercises start the motion going from the inside of the drum to the outside of the drum.
O = motion to outside
I = motion to inside
Exercise 1 is played with no pressure being applied to the head. You are focusing on getting a consistent sound with the wet cloth against the stick with both motions, to the outside and to the inside. Exercise 2 is played the same, except the left hand is applying pressure to the head to raise the pitch. The third exercise is played the same, except the first measure has no pressure being applied and the second measure has pressure being applied to the head. Try to get the same pitch each time.
Brazilian music is jam packed full of interesting instruments, like the Cuíca, that can be used in a traditional manner or used in a variety of other styles. Learn the technique and some basic patterns to get you started and feeling comfortable with the instrument. Next, come up with some of your own patterns and then integrate them into the genre of music of your choice!
– Meg Thomas
Meg Thomas Bio
Drummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, Latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum and Percussion Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions, performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases.
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