Intro to Brazilian Percussion

Intro to Brazilian Percussion

Brazilian music is often classified under Latin music, however they really are different in instrumentation and feel. They may share some of the same roots but are not interchangeable. First lets take a brief look at the types of percussion instruments found in Brazilian music, a couple main concepts to the rhythmic structure and feel, and some different styles that are commonly found in Brazilian music.

There are a wide array of percussion instruments found in Brazilian music. A common misconception is that congas and bongos are typical Brazilian instruments. Both the congas and the bongos are found in Afro-Cuban styles of music and are not common to Brazilian styles. You may find either of those instruments being played in Brazilian pop music but they are not common to Brazilian folklore. The closest drums to congas in Brazilian music are the atabaque and the timbal. The atabaque is very conga-like in sound and appearance as well as being played with the hands. The timbal is also played with the hands but sounds like a cross between a conga and a djembe and its appearance is a long cylindrical drum that tapers down to a smaller diameter at its base. A few other instruments, which will be discussed in greater detail in later articles, are the surdo, caixa, ago-go, tamborim, repinique, cuica, pandeiro, berimbau, drum set, chocalho, reco-reco, etc.

Brazilian music is usually written with two beats per measure. If the arrangement is written in 4/4, you should play it in 2/2 in order to keep the feel of the piece in two. Syncopation is very important in Brazilian music and has a strong up-beat feel. The most common feel or rhythm is the one below.

If you connect two of these figures together then you will achieve the syncopated feel that is common to Brazilian music. See the figure below.

The other rhythm we are going to touch on is the basic Brazilian clave. It doesn’t function like the clave does in the Afro-Cuban
styles but is good to know. See below.

There are many styles of music within the Brazilian realm. They are influenced by religion, region, and neighborhoods. Allow me to list a few, and keep in mind that some of these styles influenced others as well. The first one, and probably the most associated with Brazilian music, is Samba. There are several Sambas such as Batucada, Samba-Cancaó, Samba Enredo, Partido Alto, etc. Another style of Brazilian music that is well known is
the Bossa Nova. Other styles are Afoxé, Baiaó, Capoeira, Catereté, etc.

Brazilian music is certainly a genre that is very separate from Afro-Cuban styles and shouldn’t be lumped into “Latin Music.” There are a plethora of terms, styles, instruments, and performers that are associated solely with Brazilian music. Next time “Latin Music” comes up, be sure to clarify what genre is meant, exactly, in order to properly convey the correct feel and style.

– Meg Thomas

Meg Thomas Bio
Meg Thomas Headshot B-W 3.5MBDrummer 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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