What Instruments Are Used in Samba?

Updated July 19, 2017

Samba is a musical genre from Brazil that has gained worldwide appeal for its heavily rhythmic nature and unique instrumentation. The music is often associated with elaborate dance ceremonies as well as the Brazilian festival called "carnaval." The origins of Samba come from Brazil's African slave heritage. While samba has grown to incorporate a number of contemporary instruments such as horns and clarinets, traditional samba is almost exclusively rhythm and percussion-based.


The surdo is a large drum with a deep bass sound that forms the heartbeat and rhythmic template of a samba circle. Surdo players beat the drum with a large, padded beater called a baqueta in a 2/4 sequence with an accent on the second beat. The strong hand wields the beater while the weak hand may manipulate the drum head in order to muffle the stroke or to change the pitch.


The caixa is a double-headed drum with a snare sound, made of either wood or metal. Traditionally, the wooden drum is tightened with strings, whereas contemporary caixa drums are made of steel and tightened by nuts, similar to an ordinary snare drum. Caixa players use two sticks to weave a number of rhythms and solos into the mix.


The cuica is a drum that stands out among the bateria, or samba drum core, with its variety of changing pitches. Due to its unique, piercing sound, the cuica has been a popular solo instrument in samba music. On the inside of the drum, players apply a damp cloth to the skin while rubbing a bamboo cane on the surface of the drum head to produce a rare, squeaking sound. Players put pressure on the front of the drum head to change pitch; the pitch gets higher as the pressure moves more towards the centre of the drum.


The berimbau is another instrument of African slave origin that is unique to Brazilian samba music. The instrument is composed of a long stick with a string running down from the top to a gourd attached at the bottom. Players use a coin or piece of metal to conduct the sound over the hollow gourd while the other hand strikes a stick against the string. The berimbau produces a deep sound that resonates in a twangy fashion. This instrument is especially prominent in samba circles surrounding capoeira performances, a type of Brazilian dance.

Additional Percussion Instruments

There are a variety of additional percussion instruments used to complete the sound of samba. Samba musicians play small hand drums such as the tambourim, played either with a wooden stick or multi-pronged beater as well as the pandeiro, the Brazilian tambourine. Shakers add another layer of texture to the music; for example, the shekere is a large gourd adorned with string beads, which may be shaken or rubbed against the surface for a full, scratchy sound. Bells and high pitched percussion instruments also ring throughout the circle; the agogo, for example, is a set of two bells made of iron and steel. Players alternate between high and low-toned bells with a wooden stick.

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About the Author

Justin Higgins has traveled throughout South America. He writes articles that appear on various websites with a focus on travel and science-related topics. Higgins is a graduate from Ithaca College with a Bachelor of Arts in cultural anthropology.