Latin American percussion instruments

Updated April 10, 2017

Percussion instruments play an important role in the creation of music in Latin America. A large number of Latin American percussion instruments are originally from Africa, but gained popularity when they were brought to the Caribbean and people began to implement them into the music there. There are a number of different major Latin American percussion instruments that are vital in creating the region's music.


Bongo drums create the highest pitch out of all the percussion instruments in music of Latin America. These drums always come in sets of two and are small, wooden-shelled drums with single heads. The average diameter for bongo drums is 17.5 to 20 cm (7 to 8 inches). The skins are typically goat, calf or mule. Commercially available bongos may have synthetic or plastic heads, but these are not recommended for Latin American music. The basic pattern of music a bongo creates is known as martillo, and this pattern consists of eight specific drum strokes.


Conga drums are available either with fibreglass or wood shells. These drums come from African descent, but play a large role in the development of Latin American music. They were originally made out of primitive barrel drums and tree trunks that were hollowed out. The head of the conga drum is typically made from mule or calf hides, though synthetic heads are also available. Conga drums can be played singly, or they can be played in combination with other drums.

Bass pans

Steel drums or pans are from Trinidad and Tobago. These drums come from the traditional tamboo bamboo bands, which made use of bamboo shafts that ere dropped to create musical sounds. Melodic pan drums began to see development in the early part of the 1940s. You play these drums by holding the drum in one hand and beating the drum with a small stick in the other hand. There are different ways that you can play a bass pan drum to create different musical sounds as needed.


The Latin American name for the cowbell is cencerro. You play the cencerro by holding it with the pinky and thumb of one hand to support it, cupping the bell's top in the back of your hand. Then you use the end of a drumstick to strike the cowbell to create different musical sounds. You can also dampen the tone of the cowbell by applying pressure to the bell with the fingers keeping it in place.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jennifer Uhl has been writing professionally since 2005. She writes primarily for the web and has been published as a ghostwriter in "Tropical Fish Magazine" and "Entrepreneur." She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in health care from Mira Costa College.