Percussion 101: How to Play Shakers and Maracas

All percussion players will have to play some type of shaker regardless of the music setting. Whether you are playing in a salsa band, an orchestra, or in the front ensemble of a drum and bugle corps, you will encounter various types of shakers from a variety of different parts of the world.

Shakers are simply percussion instruments that create sound primarily by shaking them, thus the obvious name. However, there are dozens of types of shakers. Some, like the tambourine, are classified separately because of the more advanced percussion techniques required to perform on them.

The most common shaker is the maraca, a percussion instrument of Latin American origin. This shaker is often filled with rocks, beads, shells, or seeds, and the maraca may be made out of natural materials like a gourd or wood or can be made out of manufactured plastic. The maraca is most often played by holding the handle and moving the instrument up and down, causing the beads to knock against each other and the inner wall of the maraca. The percussion player will often play two maracas at the same time. Maracas can be found everywhere from the wind ensemble, the mariachi band, the symphony orchestra, to even a middle school band.

A shekere is an African shaker that constitutes of a large hollow gourd laced on the outside with various beads or shells. A shekere is often a work of art, with intricate designs and complex beading patterns. It is also played by holding the thinner end of the gourd (the handle), but the percussion performer must move it slightly differently to have the beads properly knock against the outside of the gourd in time. The larger flat end may be struck, as well.

An egg shaker resembles an egg and may be made out of plastic, wood, or even metal. This shaker is most often used in popular music settings and is held in the palm of the hand. The egg shaker is often preferred by singers because of its quieter sound and easy technique.

There are many other types of shakers, from sticks covered in metal plates to familiar shakers like the jingle bells often used at Christmas time. There are caxixi, bone rattles, and African reed shakers. Each type of shaker has its own unique percussion sound and percussion technique, and most percussion players own at least a dozen different types of shakers.

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