28th Oct 2014

A Closer Look at Latin Percussion Instruments

As any lover of Latin music knows, Latin percussion instruments are the backbone of this lively musical style. When most people think of Latin percussion instruments they think of the cajon, bongos, or congas. These instruments are important to the history of Latin music, but there are more Latin percussion instruments that are sometimes left out of the rhythm.


Timbales are an instrument commonly used in Cuban music. They are a type of kettle drum that is similar to the French timpani. The timbales consist of two drums mounted on a single stand. The two drums are different sizes with the larger being considered the female, and the smaller the male. While today many manufacturers make them with wood, they were traditionally made with a metal shell. Often times in performances a cowbell is attached to the stand. A set up for a performance may also include a cymbal or snare drum. The timbales are played with wooden sticks, and have become a staple in Cuban music. However, they are gaining popularity in Latin music at large.

The maracas are another important instrument in Latin music. The maracas are perhaps one of the most popular instruments because they are both fun and easy to play. Maracas are thought to have originated in Brazil, Columbia, Puerto Rico, and West Africa. These instruments were traditionally made from dried gourds. These gourds were cleaned by removing the seeds through a hole in the gourd. The gourds were then filled with beans, pebbles, beads, or seeds. Then the hole was plugged up with a stick or dowel that served as a handle for playing. The maracas have become a very important instrument in many Latin styles of music, such as salsa.

The claves consist of two, traditionally wooden, sticks or dowels. Today many modern claves are made from different materials and come in many sizes and shapes. They are played by striking these two sticks together. The claves make a sharp cracking sound as the two pieces of wood are struck together. The use of claves in Latin music has helped to popularize them and make them a favorite of hand drummers worldwide.

There’s a lot more to Latin percussion instruments than the cajon, bongos, and congas. Latin percussion instruments are varied and diverse, with plenty of options to fit every style and level of performance. Experimenting with and trying out new Latin instruments can open the door to a whole new world of musical experience.