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Instruments used in caribbean music

Updated February 21, 2017

Reflecting a fusion of indigenous, European, and African music, Caribbean music genres, with their distinctive rhythmic qualities, have become popular and influential throughout the world. Major genres of Caribbean music include calypso, reggae, and Cuban jazz. All three genres utilise various instruments to help create their individual, distinctive qualities.

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Calypso began in Trinidad in the 19th century and was invented by Africans, who were only allowed to sing, not talk, while they worked the plantations. Lyrics took on a theme of protest, making the voice the first important instrument of Calypso. Early calypso musicians also used handmade and folk instruments such as skin drums, bamboo sticks, and rattles. Today, Calypso musicians incorporate a wide range of instruments into their performances, including steel drums, saxophones, trumpets, and guitars.


A more recently developed style, Reggae was born in Jamaica in the 1960s. Reggae’s sound is created through a syncopated rhythmic style known as skank, in which the number two and number four beats of a bar are more pronounced. Reggae skank is played using a rhythm guitar. Along with the rhythm guitar, rich bass guitars lines wind their way through reggae tunes, and drum beats are typically provided by a contemporary drum kit. Pianos and synthesizers are also frequent in reggae and are often used with an organ-like sound.

Cuban Jazz

Born from a confluence of American jazz and Cuban and Creole styles, Cuban jazz was fervently developed by both American musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie, and Cuban musicians, like Leonardo Acosta. Taking from its ragtime, blues, and swing influences, instruments common in Cuban jazz include brass instruments such as the trumpet, trombone, and tuba and woodwind instruments like the saxophone and flute. String instruments are also frequently used, and the famous Cuban virtuoso Chucho Valdés has made the piano practically synonymous with Cuban jazz. Percussion is often provided with instruments associated with traditional Cuban music, such as bongo drums, conga drums, timbales, rattles, and shakers.

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About the Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the "Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design" and "New American Paintings." He has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota.

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