Samba is a very lively, syncopated dance (see syncopation) with two beats in a bar in which a set of percussion instruments provides the foundation. It originated in Brazil.


The music of Latin America combines influences from the traditional music of African slaves transported between 1450 and the end of the 19th century, from the Spanish and Portuguese colonial powers, and latterly, pop and jazz from North America.


Samba is an umbrella term describing an energetic style of dancing and drumming performed at the annual pre-Lent carnivals in Brazil in February and March, and across Europe and North America. With the abolition of slavery in South America in 1888, many black workers migrated to the cities, and lives in favelas (shanty towns) around the edges of the city. Samba developed as a popular style in the favelas and by 1917 the first samba record, On the Telephone was released.


Samba style

Depending on the number of performers, samba can vary in style. Typically, its style is two beats in a bar and a medium to fast tempo to encourage the dancers to keep moving. Samba relies on a characteristic batucadaq (rhythmic pattern), which is played by the bateria (percussion) in a samba band. There can be between 10 and 50 performers in the bateria, who work together to play the batucada, which comprises several short repeated rhythms that fit together to create a multilayered, interlocking pattern.


A samba piece is constructed from chorus and verse sections, which use different combinations of the bateria, and provide opportunities for other instrumentalists, singers, and dancers to perform. Samba music is played without notation and learned aurally. The structure of a piece is likely to vary in performance as performers extemporize solo sections within the basic structure of the music. The ensemble is directed by the mestre (master), who will play in the group and give signals to the performers using a whistle (apito).


Make-up of a samba band

Typically a samba bateria will comprise a group of drums and a shaker (ganzá), scraper (reco-reco), and the agogo, a double- or triple-cone-shaped bell played with a metal or wooden stick. In ascending order of pitch, the drums are the surdo (bass drum), caixa (snare drum), cuíca (friction drum), tamborin (frame drum), and pandiero (tambourine).



The surdo is a double-headed cylindrical metal drum, 40–50 centimeters (16–20 inches) in diameter and 60 centimeters (24 inches) long, suspended from a harness worn by the player. The player uses a large padded drumstick and muffles the sound with their hand. The surdo plays a pulse and is the heartbeat of the ensemble.



The caixa, 10–30 centimeters (8–12 inches) diameter and 10 centimeters (4 inches) long, generally plays a continuous sixteenth-note rhythm with a syncopated accent pattern. The cuíca is a popular solo instrument, as it has a pitch range and unusual sound.


Tamborin and pandeiro

The tamborin, 15–20 centimeters (6–8 inches) in diameter and pandeiro, 20–30 centimeters (8–12 inches) in diameter, are frame drums. The tamborin does not have jingles and is played with a stick. The pandeiro has jingles and is very similar to the European tambourine. When playing these instruments, the forefinger of the non-playing hand is used to muffle the drum head to produce both open and closed sounds. Experienced tamborin and pandeiro players show great flair in performance and perform choreographic routines with the instruments as they play.