Maracas are exceptionally popular hand held percussion instruments. This is perhaps because they are some of the easiest and most fun instruments to play. Maracas are thought to have originated in Brazil, Columbia, Puerto Rico, and West Africa and have long been used in the musical traditions of these cultures including ceremonies, festivals and celebrations. As a defining sound in Salsa music and dance, the use of maracas has spread to other genres and venues over the years. These instruments are now widely used in a variety of musical styles including rock, country, reggae, R&B, classical, and Latin music.
Maracas were traditionally made from dried gourds. The insides of these gourds were cleaned by removing the seeds and pulp of the gourd through a small hole in the gourd. The gourd was then refilled with different materials that would produce a rattling sound when the gourd was shaken. Some common materials the gourds were filled with included small pebbles, beans, beads, and seeds. Different amounts of filler material produced different tones when the gourd was shaken. Once the gourds were filled, the holes in the gourds were filled with a stick or dowel. This created the handle which made playing the maraca easier and gave the maraca the shape we associate with it today. Today maracas are made from wood, plastic, and leather as well as gourds.
Maracas can be a great first instrument for children to learn to play. Playing the maracas in a classroom can help children develop their fine and gross motor skills and they can also help them to learn to follow beats and rhythms. Children can learn how to express themselves through these musical patterns and encouraging children to play the maracas as part of a larger group teaches children how to work together as a team. This team building can have positive social implications as well; studies have shown that children who play rhythm and percussion instruments often have better communication skills than those who do not, which may also correlate with better performance in school.
Maracas are used in multiple forms of music and dance all over the world. They can be utilized in many different ways for many different purposes, from performance to a therapeutic or educational setting, to jamming along with friends in a drum circle. Maracas bring people together through the sharing of different forms of music and dance, as well through the simple act of coming together to create music. Whether you are playing maracas to add to the complexity of your professional music goals or playing them to help inspire the love of music in a child, maracas are a fun, exciting and magical instrument for everyone.