rattle and shaker


A shekere – a type of African rattle.

Rattles and shakers are ubiquitous untuned percussion instruments in all musical cultures. They are used in many forms of music-making, religious ceremonies, dance, and other activities. They are often simple in construction and can be made from natural materials.


A rattle comprises a body housing a number of small pellets or beans, which bounce against the internal walls of the instrument when it is shaken or struck, like a maraca. A shaker is played in the same way, but the objects that produce the sound are on the outside of the instrument, like the Latin American quijada – the jawbone of a donkey or horse shaken so that the teeth clatter. A shaker may also have jingles made from metal, shell, stone, or glass.


Rattles and shakers may have a handle like a baby's rattle, or the whole body of the instrument may be shaken, like the Chilean rain stick. This is a hollowed and dried cactus branch with thorns hammered into it in a spiral pattern. It is then filled with small pebbles, and the ends are capped and sealed. Turning the stick over causes the pebbles to trickle over the thorns, making the sound of gentle rain.


Crotal bells

Rattles are used in a range of extra-musical activities. Crotal or closed bells are worn by dancers throughout Asia and Africa and also added to animals' harnesses. In a crotal bell, the outside of the bell encloses the clapper or pellet. They are usually small, and several can be put together and attached to a strap or handle – orchestral sleigh bells up to 10 or 20 crotal bells. Archeological records indicate that crotal bells have been used since prehistoric times, and were also worn as talisman.


See also maracas and cabasa.