What Instruments Are (Actually) Played In Brazil?


Brazilian Instruments - cavaquinho - tambourine

You’re probably aware of how drums are a big part of the local music in Brazil (especially samba), but are you familiar with any other instruments that make Brazilian culture one of a kind?

Instruments like the Tambourine, Atabaque (Conga Drums), Cuíca, Cavaquinho and Berimbau are just a few examples of the many instruments that are largely played in the country and they all contribute to make musical styles like forró, bossa nova and choro so popular amongst the citizens.

So, based on our regional genres, here are a few examples of what other instruments are used in our music and how they help shape them to be so unique in their own ways.

Check this infographic and keep on reading for more information on the instruments and also videos where you can hear the unique sounds of these Brazilian instruments as well!

Samba

If you’ve ever experienced a live samba band, you probably know there is no other feeling like it. Filled with intensity and passion, most sambas have a tight drum line and are infused with instruments that help build up that explosion of emotions that Brazilians are well familiar with.

Here’s a few of them:

Tambourine

Brazilians use a variety of different kinds of tambourines for specific types of genres. Depending whether you’re listening to samba, pagode or choro (check the following item to see more on this), this instrument has a few minor variations in regards to its structure, which will reflect on the sound intended for that particular music style.

The musician in the vídeo below showcases how versatile the tambourine can be:      

Surdo

Also referred as the “heart of samba music”, the Surdo is a large drum barrel also used in axé music, and it’s famous for its distinguished deep sound. It’s a legitimate Brazilian-born instrument, played with a single drumstick and one bare hand, marking the binary pace of songs, as you can see below:

Cuíca

Heavily used in the Brazilian Carnival, the cuíca is an instrument very similar to a drum barrel that produces a quirky harmony some people say sounds like a monkey. Wilson das Neves (a famous Brazilian artist) is well known for using this instrument in his songs, as you can see below:

Atabaque (Conga Drums)

Originally from Africa, the Atabaque is another percussion instrument used in both samba and axé music, but also considered a sacred object in the Umbanda & Candomblé afro-brazilian religions. It can be played with bare hands or with drumsticks, depending on the sound you’re trying to achieve.

The atabaque is also largely used in capoeira rounds (a brazilian martial art style), as you can see below:

Choro

The Choro (also known as Chorinho) is a traditional Brazilian rhythm made famous by national artists like Pixinguinha, Waldir Azevedo and Chiquinha Gonzaga. It’s a purely instrumental genre, still very popular especially in Rio de Janeiro.

A few examples of instruments used in this style are:

Acoustic Guitar

Probably the most well known instrument worldwide, the acoustic guitar is a staple on choro music, especially it’s strumming gentle sound. Instead of trying to paint a picture on what the guitars sound like in this genre and all the emotions it’s able to evoke, just press play on the following video and experience it for yourself:

Cavaquinho

The Cavaquinho is an instrument very similar to the ukulele, but it sounds completely different. Most musicians use guitar picks while playing it, but beautiful music is also made while strumming its chords, producing a delicate sound filled with sentiment. Check it out:

Flute

Another worldwide popular instrument, both regular and piccolo flutes are used to complement the sound of choro, being the perfect choice to add to the genre’s emotional vibes. The following song is one of the most famous choro songs, with many artists praising it for it’s skilled flute usage.

Bandolim

The bandolim is an italian born instrument (originally known as the mandolin), which was later modified in Portugal and only then made popular in Brazil. Alongside the Cavaquinho, the acoustic guitar and the flute, it completes the foundation of choro music. One of the most prominent Brazilian bandolim instrumentalists is a carioca (Brazilian citizen born in Rio de Janeiro) artist called Jacob do Bandolim:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bqA-sBujlg

Bossa Nova

The Bossa Nova style was born in Rio de Janeiro during the late 50’s as a variation of Samba, characterized with a more simplistic and subtle approach to the genre. Artists like João Gilberto, Ary Barroso, Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes were the pioneers of Bossa Nova, helping it become famous overseas as well.

Although known to many (especially Brazilians) as a more “voice and guitar” kind of music, Bossa Nova also explores the use of the following two instruments:

Piano

This well known instrument was massively used by Tom Jobim (he was a pianist) in his compositions to define the pacing of the songs and well as helping creating a delicate mannered tone when needed.

Check out this video of him singing one of his pieces while playing the piano:

Saxophone

This wind instrument was also very commonly used in Bossa Nova compositions, helping to enrich it’s melodies with both high and deep tones as well and giving them a jazzy bohemian quality. This is a popular instrument amongst Brazilian street artists to this day.

Here’s a cover of the Bossa Nova classic “Chega de Saudade” played on Saxophone:

Forró

Forró is a festivity born in the northeastern region of Brazil, really popular in national territory especially during the months of June and July, when it is celebrated in parties known by Brazilians as festas juninas (or the June Festivals in a free translation).

Although not a musical style per say, Forró iswidely used to comprehend genres such as xote, baião, arrasta-pé and xaxado, which uses the following instrumentation:

Sanfona (Accordion)

The Sanfona (also known as the Accordion) is a both a string and key instrument, producing sounds similar to the violin and the bagpipes. It is heavily used in folklore music in Brazil and is considered by many as the core sound of this genre.

Here’s an example of how this instrument is played during the june festivities:

Triangle

This simple instrument plays a big role in Brazilian forró percussion. Depending on how it’s held or hit with its small metal cane, it produces striking or more constricted sounds, being a compelling choice to keep things interesting during live performances.

I found this really cool video demonstrating the different sounds this instrument is able to yield:

Zabumba

Another drum barrel-like instrument, the Zabumba is used to keep up the tempo of forró songs. Although visually similar to other instruments we saw before, the Zabumba has a more hollow and profound sound, as you can see below:

As you were able to see (and listen), Brazil has a vast musical culture and there’s much more to uncover. If you’re interested in getting to know more about what other types of music Brazilians like to listen to, click here to see the post (we even added a Spotify list with what is hot in the Brazilian music scene right now!)

Ana

Hi, I am Ana, the creator of this blog. I am Brazilian and currently live outside of Brazil. I love traveling, eating and learning about new cultures. I hope the contents of my blog can help you with those things as well!

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