All About Maracas! Including Our Top 5 Pick
The intuitive use of the Maracas makes this percussion instrument one of the easiest to stimulate a musical attitude in both kids and adults.
Maracas are so easy to play, so versatile and fun, we often forget that they can have an important role in many different genres and styles of music.
What is the origin of this simple, yet complex instrument? Maracas belong to the family of rattles, a kind of percussion you play by simply shaking it.
Rattles are an ancient family of instruments, that goes back to Ancient Egypt, where they were played during religious ceremonies.
The rattles we know as maracas are typical of South America and the Caribbean. In these areas too, their ethereal sound and easiness of use made maracas mostly used by shamans during religious functions. They often served as a mean for divination or they were played during healing rituals.
Our Pick of the Best 5 Maracas
With their characteristic round shape, maracas were traditionally made of dried gourds containing a few pebbles. Nowadays you can find them in leather, plastic, or wood.
Their essential design and the intuitive way of playing them should not deceive you: there are actually various kinds of maracas, playing in different pitches and offering different sounds. The world of this famous percussion is more complex than it seems!
Nowadays maracas are often featured in Pop, Latin, Jazz music and played by talented percussionists such as John Santos, Airto Moreira, and Carl Palmer.
Here’s a list of five facts about maracas you probably don’t know.
Rock stars play maracas too
While maracas are a constant presence in Latin and Caribbean music, you can hear their brisk sound in rock’n’roll hits too.
The most famous rock star playing maracas is probably Mick Jagger, who rocked the Latin instrument in different well-known Rolling Stone’s singles. Think about their energetic blues Not Fade Away or the super-popular You Can’t Always Get What You Want. They wouldn’t sound as lively without maracas, right?
Another rock’n’roll maracas player was the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who used them to give even more variety and complexity to his famous drumming style.
Maracas in classical music
Maracas are also present in some contemporary classical music compositions. Leonard Bernstein, among others, featured maracas in his Symphony No.1 and in West Side Story.
Sergej Prokofiev featured the Latin instrument in his masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, showing the world how versatile maracas can be.
Is “shaking” enough?
Yes, to play the maracas you simply have to shake them but did you know their sound and pitch can actually change according to the position of your hand and the direction in which you sway them?
For a brighter sound, keep them upright, with the handle held vertically, and shake them forward and backward. For a deeper, lower sound shake them up and down. For a soft rhythmical accompaniment, not too intrusive, hold a single maraca and tap it with your fingers.
Make maracas at home
Maracas are very easy to build at home.
If you ever attended a music camp in your childhood, you might have already done that!
Building maracas is a fun and creative activity to keep your children engaged. It can be a jolly hobby for yourself too!
Simply stuff an empty small bottle with some rice or lentils and add a toilet paper tube to create the handles. Now you can get crazy with the decorations!
A mythical origin
As mentioned above, rattles were already in use in ancient times and although we generally associate maracas to South America, similar percussion instruments were developed anywhere in the world.
According to an African legend, for example, the first maracas were built by a goddess who sealed white pebbles in a calabash.
This myth highlights the religious and mystical aura surrounding these instruments.
Did you know the world of maracas could be so complex and exciting? Do you know any other peculiar fact about this instrument? Let us know in the comment!