Highlights of Musical

About the works

The Coming Decline of Frevo

Tambourine Playing in Brazil

The African Influence in Brazilian Music

Frevo Steps and Music

Art and Artists

In Terms of Music from São Paulo

A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm

Scales in Brazilian Folk Music

The Indians of Petrópolis

Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis

Notes on Playing Marbles

Variations on the Boi

Variations on the Baião

Variations on the Maxixe





A Gazeta – São Paulo, April 9, 1960.


          Tambourine playing in Brazilian folk music seems to have its own unique approach - at least if other countries play this way, Brazilian scholars have yet to hear of it. What scholars have found in terms of tambourine technique, in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Hungary and elsewhere, is players holding the instrument with one hand and tapping it on the other. In Brazil it is just the opposite: the instrument is held with the left hand and the other strikes it.

          Brazilians hold the instrument tilted slightly to the left. While only the thumb is above the skin, the little, ring and middle fingers secure it below the rim. During playing, the index finger has an exclusively musical role, sometimes muffling the head, other times letting it vibrate, constantly changing the effects. In general the head is struck on the two of a 2/4 beat; on the eight note or off-beat; or on the first and fourth sixteenth notes of each beat, that is to say each group of four.

          Normally the thumb of the right hand, near the rim, plays the accents that make the vibrating head effect mentioned above. The placement of the right thumb can vary, and does not always make the head vibrate: the index, middle and ring fingers strike together on other areas of the skin producing other effects. The back of the hand near the wrist produces yet another effect.

          The tilt of the tambourine is not static. Rather, the instrument is articulated slightly in  regular, left-right movements that not only facilitate playing, but also emphasize the sound of the jingles. In a certain position, the jingles are clearly heard just as the head is struck. Note that in Brazilian folk music the jingles are always used within in the precise rhythmic patterns.

          The roll, produced when the thumb slides across the skin causing the jingles to shake [and not vibrate precisely], is another commonly used recourse.

          Based on the observation of a large number of folk musicians, we can conclude that these are the most common effects in Brazil: 1) vibrating skin; 2) muffled skin; 3) thumb next to rim [full sound]; 4) thumb or three fingers in other areas of the membrane; 5) thumb-produced roll; and 6) the always rhythmic sound of the jingles.

          Shaking the jingles, without playing on the skin – something actually common in Europe – has been an exception and not a rule here among our players.

           Generally speaking, learning to play takes at least six months of dedicated training. Then the folk musician will begin to identify more clearly the complex rhythms of the instruments played together and to adapt the effects to the situation.

          Each folk musician finds his own way to play the tambourine, which results in a range of possibilities for obtaining the different effects. Everything depends on the player’s skill and the music he is playing with.

          There are many very talented players. Some, especially in the urban music scene, creatively juggle their instruments. But even with all the juggling they never lose the movements’ rhythm, sometimes making for extra-musical exhibitionism.

          Researchers who take on the challenge of trying to write tambourine music will need plenty of patience. Without it none will succeed in writing “in Brazilian” for this instrument with possibilities that evade the grasp of academic minds.