The Brazilian Instruments and Drums - 1# Brazil Percussive Guide

From Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and Recife, Brazil features percussion at its heart. Samba music alone features many rhythms, each has its own instrumentation, with different harmonic and percussive instruments being used according to each cultural background.

From hunting dangerous animals, and using their skins to head drums, such as the snakeskin Tamborim, using heat to bend wood for percussion instrument shells, and forging bells using traditional blacksmith techniques, not many countries can replicate the inventiveness of Brazilian drums and instruments.

If you’re looking contextualized take on Brazilian musical instrument repertoire, then you’ve found the right guide. We won’t be going over harmonic instruments or accessories, since we believe the core characteristic that makes Brazilian music unique is the wide variety of percussion instruments, explored in different rhythms and traditions.

Timbal instrument - symbol of brazilian instruments

Contemporary Timbal (at the first plane) playing draws from Candomblé, and African Djembe techniques (Background).

The passion for rhythm is one of the defining characteristics of Brazilian music. Each community, according to the region and background, normally has one percussion instrument, be it made of beads, animal skin, or plastic head and body. They can be played with stick

You can learn more, with in-depth information about Brazilian Rhythms in our Guide to Brazilian Rhythms!
Brazilian Rhythms Guide

Samba, Capoeira, and Candomblé

Samba music has been the explosive force that has propelled the Brazilian image, mingling with jazz and other forms of world music.

The tools to make Brazilian music vary, however, the percussion instruments, drums, and otherwise, are among the most varied.

While there are many bow and string instruments used in Brazilian music, the main original instruments used in popular music are drums and percussion instruments.

African slaves, especially those from the Bantu, Yoruba, and Gbe ethnic branches, and the many indigenous populations native to Brazil were some of the main influencers in the development of Brazilian musical instruments.

Percussion ensembles, construction techniques, and artisan instruments fuelled

If what you’re looking for is the drums and instruments used in the many varieties of Samba, we have a full guide on Samba Instruments here

Traditional Arts and Traditional Drums

Capoeira has also been the passport for many Brazilians who’ve sowed the teaching of their masters around the world, using the Berimbau, Agogô, Pandeiro, and Atabaque.

In Brazil, Candomblé and Umbanda were responsible for a large part of African traditional Brazilian instruments and culture preservation within Brazil.

Congado, Maracatu, and Tambor de Crioula are other examples of traditional culture percussive formats which use drums that originated in Brazil. They were influenced heavily by Africa, especially West and Occidental Africa, as well as the Amerindian people native to Brazil.

Curious about Candomblé? Read about it on our Guide!
Learn about Candomblé!

What drums are used in samba? – The Brazilian samba instruments 

Samba is one of the most recognizable and beloved forms of Brazilian music.

Its distinctive, infectious rhythm comes from in a variety of flavors, coming from the Terreiros (Places of Candomblé and Umbanda worship) to the community-based samba schools, as well as many other samba traditions. Samba musical instruments vary based on what rhythm is being played, as samba music is not a uniform genre.

Variations have strayed from their origins, but traditionally, the instrumentations are:

  • In Rio de Janeiro and most of Brazil you can see Samba or choro played with Pandeiro, Repique, Surdo, Tamborim, Cuíca, Reco Reco and Ganzá
  • In Santo Amaro, Cachoeira, and other regions of Reconcavo Baiano, you can see Samba de Roda played on Atabaques, Agogô, Chocalho, Caxixi, Berimbau, Reco Reco, Knife and Plate, and Pandeiro
  • In Salvador, you can see Samba Duro played on Timbal, Repique or Bacurinha, Tamborim, and Surdo

To learn more about how samba was made check our Samba Guide, covering origins and some of the dozens of different varities and styles of Samba.

Complete Samba Guide or Samba instruments guide


Atabaque: a form of Communication, entertainment, and the heartbeat of the rhythm

One of the better-known drum shapes in Brazil is the Atabaque drums, made in different sizes and shapes, a recurring cultural ground between different cultural settings, from traditional Samba forms, Capoeira, and especially related to Terreiros, the Afro-Brazilian religious centers, present in the vast majority of them.

Made of a Wooden Shell consisting of vertical wood planks grouped and bent up by heat and mechanical force into a barrel shape. One of the main drumming symbols in Brazil, it has spread from the first regions in Bahia to great distances, present from north to south.

In Capoeira, typically the Atabaque has only one size, while in Candomblé and Umbanda, it is done in three sizes, each with an individual function.

Both Capoeira and Samba, it is played with the hands, while Ketu Candomblé drumming tradition is to play the Atabaque with wooden sticks made traditionally from the Guava or Araça plants, called “Aguidavi”, or the hands, depending on the rhythm played.

– Aguidavi – traditional sticks used for Ketu Candomblé made from the Guava or Araça plants

Depending on which Atabaque, Rum, Rumpi, or Lé, they will use a pair of – Aguidavi sticks, or only one Aguidavis tick on one hand, while the other play directly on the drumhead. Some Samba groups use this form for song opening, such as Ilê Aiyê.

Brazilian Craftsmen and Artisanship

There are many traditional instrument artisans in Brazil, such as Mestre Dinho in Pelourinho, Salvador. They are the human repository of centuries of material culture and traditional design in Brazil, having developed and adapted their technique according to the memory and inventiveness of the Brazilian people.

Brazilian Traditional Craftsmen - Dinho Pelourinho

Mestre Dinho in Pelourinho, Salvador – Making the Ataba-Sabar, a mix between Atabaques and Sabar drums

Mestre Dinho has been making musical instruments native to Brazil, Africa, and the African Diaspora for half a century, and has his workshop right in Pelourinho, in the heart of historical Salvador.

Responsible for the drum shell sculpting, drumhead and skin fitting, and tightening, Mestre Dinho’s works are housed on hundreds of Terreiros, places of worship for Candomblé and Umbanda Afro-Brazilian religions, as well as various cultural institutions, musical groups, and traditional and folkloric groups. These drums add the traditional aspect of Brazil music to the musical instruments of any collection, group or band.

Traditional instrument making in Brazil is an art, a practice that requires knowledge and dexterity. Craftsmen are essential to the culture because they preserve and disseminate their musical instruments, as well as the traditional construction methods. An Instrument made by traditional craftsmen is a material piece of the Brazilian memory.

The artisans have all materials specifically tailored for each instrument, from the wood to the rope, to create unique drums, unmatched by any factory or mass-produced drum.


Drums originated in Brazilian soil with both African or Indigenous roots. The Caxambu and Tambor de Crioula are examples stemming directly from ancestral African designs, made from whole logs hollowed and headed with goat skin, made since colonial times.

The early version of these drums may well have been the first designs of African enslaved people in Brazil.

Other drums have originated more recently, such as Samba’s contemporary instrumentation, made with modern materials.

Others may have been taken from European military bands, such as the Surdo (Bass drum) and Caixa (Snare drum), but assumed other formats as their tradition developed and intertwined with other traditional instruments.

Traditional Construction vs Contemporary Production

Traditional musical instruments have developed over time to form the unique culture of Brazil.

Technological advancements have also changed the formats of Brazilian Drums. Atabaques for example used to be tuned either with fire or rope.

With mechanical facilities, many Atabaque builders started to use hooks with bolts and nuts to pull the iron rings, in a different way to generate tension. This allows to quickly tune them with a wrench, instead of taking more time to pull the ropes

Similarly, Pandeiro, the Brazilian Hand frame drum, was originally built only with animal head, stretched and tightened with a wooden frame and pegs, with the metal jingles as Mestre Dinhos still does it.

The contemporary factory-produced pandeiros are often built with plastic all-round, from head to frame.

Pandeiro - Brazilian Hand frame drum

Pandeiro from our Shop, featuring superb sound and traditional style

Drum heads – How to tighten drums in different techniques made in Brazil

Traditional building methods persist, and while nut and bolt-tuned Atabaques have perhaps become more common than rope Atabaques, traditionally tuned rope Atabaques are still present.

In some circles such as more traditional Capoeira groups, the Atabaques are still tuned with the natural fiber rope called Sisal, extracted in Bahia.

Atabaque drum made with Sisal Rope

Traditional Atabaque from our Shop

Others opt for middle-term contemporary/traditional approaches, such as rope-tuned Atabaques using Polypropylene rope, which is easier on the hands and flows more swiftly through the rope rings. Traditional looks and aesthetics, with ease of use of modern components, is one the commonplace in modern Brazilian craftsmanship.

PP Rope Atabaque drum in Pelourinho, Salvador

PP-Rope Atabaque from our shop

Get your Brazilian Groove on!

We offer a percussion course that features direct contact with a Master Teacher!

You can start learning with traditional style teachings: no theory or textbooks!

Learn by oral teaching methods: Discover a new way to understand Rhythm!

To Observe and listen are the basic principle upon which our teachers, and their teacher, and so on for several generations, learned, and so can you!

You can also check out our Shop, to find Atabaques, Pandeiros, Agogôs, Caxixis, and many other Brazilian instruments, each one made by master craftsmen such as Mestre Dinho, from Pelourinho in Salvador.

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For each Rhythm, an instrument

Each music genre has different regional and cultural characteristics. Rhythms such as Samba, Maracatu, and Samba Reggae, each depend upon a different instrument, for example:

  • Maracatu has the traditional Alfaias, a large round drum, headed with goat skin on both sides, along with the Gonguê, the Caixa, and Atabaque, now sometimes exchanged for the Timbal.

Alfaia Traditional drum from maracatu rhythm from Pernambuco state

Maracatu main Drum: Alfaia  – Source: Leão Coroado Archives

  • Traditional Samba, Samba de Roda, utilizes one Atabaque, reco-reco, a plate played with a knife, the pandeiro, and Agogô. Modern Samba de Roda also inserted the Bacurinha and Timbal, elements of Samba Duro, as well as Guiro, shakers, and the Trio de Surdo.

Knife and Plate, a Traditional Samba instrument

Dona Aurinda do Prato (Ms. Aurinda of the Plate), playing the Traditional Knife and Plate, one of the earliest Samba instruments Photo by:@juliarodr.gues

  • Partido Alto or Pagode has adapted modern sounds, made up by the Rebolo, Repique de Mão, Tam-Tam, Pandeiro, Reco-Reco and Ganzá.

Jackson do Pandeiro A brazilian musician playing the Pandeiro, a brazilian instrument

Famous for his Classical Sambas, as well as songs made of Xote and Baião rhythms, Jackson do Pandeiro, was both singer and percussionist.

  • Samba Reggae has its own contemporary Brazilian instrumental elements such as the Repique, Dobra, Surdo, and Caixa, changing according to each group’s traditions, for example, Olodum does not always utilize the Timbal, whereas Timbalada is guaranteed to include it.

Timbalada - group that plays Percussion rhythms and Traditions from Bahia

Timbalada, a group that mixed Samba-Reggae and Samba Duro, posing with the Timbal and Surdo in the 90’s

Other Afro-Brazilian Traditions that have unique musical instruments

Brazilian culture is far from being united. While Samba is heard in many contexts, there is a great difference between Bahian and Rio’s Samba: there are even variations within each region.

Samba is only one cultural culture performed, as there are numerous cultural manifestations, many with unique drums: the diversity present in the creation of Brazil is present in the material and immaterial culture.

Some of these are:

  • Congado
  • Jongo
  • Catira
  • Tambor de Criola
  • Bumba Meu Boi
  • Escola de Samba (Samba Schools)
  • Bloco Afro
  • Reizado (Minas Gerais) or Império (Quilombo)
  • Coco 
  • Carimbó
  • Forró
  • And many, many more…

To know the full list of Brazilian Instruments, you can see our Instrument Glossary, or if you’re interested in the rhythms, our Brazilian Rhythms Guide.


Brazilian drums share the African love for Percussive harmony: 

The melodics of drumming is based on question-and-answer formats, forming a polyrhythmic and polyharmonic composition.

The importance of artisans who know the musical aspect of each instrument is fundamental, as the drums are supposed to be in harmony in relation to the others.

While drums are not conventionally tuned on scales, they must produce sound relations. Drum heads are tuned and pitched in relation to each other.

For example, in the Candomblé there are three Atabaques, Rum is the lowest pitch, Rumpi the medium, and Lé the highest pitch sound.

Even higher-pitched is the metallic sound of the Agogô or Gân, or the bead hitting the gourd made by the Xequerê. The Xequerê and Agogô are examples of African Designs used in Afro-Brazilian Cultures

Rum , PI and Lé - Traditional Candomblé instruments

Main Candomblé Instruments

Stick, Stone, Caxixi, Biriba, a gourd, and metal string – Brazil has Berimbau in its heart

Capoeira music, dance, and martial arts are unified in an art form, which uses the iconic Berimbau as the communication. While an Atabaque drum is present, the main percussion instrument in Capoeira is the Berimbau, a wooden bow, tuned with a metal string attached to a gourd. The Berimbau is made of a Biriba – a flexible and strong wood, made traditionally of a three called Pau d’Arco – literally wood bow. The Berimbau is played with wooden sticks, stones or old metal coins and the Caxixi, a fiber and seed shaker. The accompanying instruments are the Pandeiro, Agogô – The bells, and the Atabaque.

In Capoeira the same relationship percussion harmony is present, at one end Gunga, the lowest pitch Berimbau, then Medio at the middle pitch, and Viola the highest pitched. The low pitches of the Atabaque are below the Gunga, and the highest above Viola of the bell Agogô, producing sounds that complement each other, forming percussive harmony.

The three Capoeira wood bow instrument, the Berimbau : Gunga medio and Viola

The variants of Berimbau(from left to right): Gunga, Medio, and Viola – Source: Zum Zum Capoeira

Drum as a Religious Instrument

Candomblé and Umbanda of most varieties will use the three Atabaques:

-Rum, the one that talks with the dance, and expresses the grounding energy, the

-Rumpi, which makes the connection between Rum and the Lé,

, the one with the air energy.

Rum, Rumpi, and Lé all play according to the Agogô or Gãn beat. The Agogô or Gãn commonly dictate the cadency and rhythm, as they are the first instrument to start playing in the Xirê, or Toques, the Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies and celebrations.

Pernambuco’s Xambá Terreiro’s on the other hand uses the Ilú Drum, preserving the same drum and Agogô formation.

Candomblé, in its many forms and variations, acted as seeds for several musical styles, which were incorporated into contemporary Brazilian musical instruments

A prime example is Samba Duro also known as Samba Junino, created in Salvador incorporating elements from Samba de Caboclo, a Candomblé rhythm, while using contemporary musical instruments, such as the repique, tamborim and especially the Timbal.

Tinho Pequeno, once lead Percussionist of one of the most symbolic Samba Duro groups, Samba Fama, gave his thought on the importance of the Timbal in Samba Junino

“Without Timbal there wouldn’t be Samba Junino, as the Timbal was instructed for Samba Junino” -Tinho Pequeno

Tinho pequeno timbal player from Samba Duro movement

Tinho and many other players of Timbal from the Samba Duro movement, reached a wider audience when they were recruited for the Timbalada and other Blocos Afro (Samba Schools focused on Afro-Brazilian Culture) to play Timbal, the lead opening instrument, because of its loud and unique sound.

The timbal also soon became part of Rio’s Samba Schools, starting in Madureira, and after the Axé Music movement gained strength, many bands and percussionists started to insert the Timbal in many Brazilian Rhythms.

The Timbal drank heavily from the Candomblé rhythms, the Samba de Roda, and soon began adopting Conga and Djembe techniques as well. It is one of the references in Brazilian music and how versatile and varied Brazilian instrument technique and rhythm exploration is.

If you’re interested in Learning more about contemporary and traditional Brazilian music instruments, we have a comprehensive list of Brazilian Drums and Percussive Instruments at:

Brazilian Drums and Instruments Complete List

Get your Brazilian Groove on!

We offer a percussion course that features direct contact with a Master Teacher!

You can start learning with traditional style teachings: no theory or textbooks!

Learn by oral teaching methods: Discover a new way to understand Rhythm!

To Observe and listen are the basic principle upon which our teachers, and their teacher, and so on for several generations, learned, and so can you!

You can also check out our Shop, to find Atabaques, Pandeiros, Agogôs, Caxixis, and many other Brazilian instruments, each one made by master craftsmen such as Mestre Dinho, from Pelourinho in Salvador.

Free Trial on our Course

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