While the cowbell may seem a simple instrument, the range of sounds, tones and accents available are unmatchable when it comes to giving a song an extra punch. Latin music is the top genre for the cowbell sound, making it the standard for the overall implementation of cowbell style and technique. However, songs like “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” "Funky Cold Medina," and “Rain Dance Maggie,” would not have the same feel or affection without the strategic use of the cowbell. Cowbells are versatile, having a large presence in many types of Latin music, as well as an interesting accent within drum circles and group drumming events.
Today’s cowbells come in a wide collection of styles and sizes, most of which are constructed to attach to a drum stand, while others have handles for more portable play, or are even attached to a drum kick stand. The typical cowbell is one bell that is played with drumsticks in order to capture the tinny sound. These cowbells can still have a range of sound, from the high-pitch, Toca Pro Line Cowbell or the LP Timbale Cowbell, to the more natural sound of the Meinl Black Finish Model Cowbell. Percussion manufacturers, like Latin Percussion or Toca, also have pre-made cowbell sets that feature multiple tones through groups of individual cowbells.
In addition to the standard cowbell, variations on cowbells have been manufactured for years. It is not uncommon to see Djun Djun bells, Agogo bells or clave bells, each a variation on the cowbell, among many others. These types of cowbells help create an even more unique sound that is perfect for today’s Latin, rock, pop and world music. The choice over which cowbell, cowbells or cowbell sets is more of a matter of the type of music, the preference of the musician, and the overall sound desired. Not all cowbells are created equally, and while it may seem less important to consider the variations of a cowbell, it is surprising how different each type sounds, and what each can add to the overall composition or song.
The cowbell is a staple sound in the world of music today. From its earliest days as a tool for ranchers, to its presence in some of the most unforgettable songs of our times, cowbells are more than just percussion instruments.