TAMBOURINE PLAYING IN BRAZIL
A Gazeta – São Paulo, April 9, 1960.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.