The Styles of Maracas

by Karen Smith
Maracas are often played in world music.

Maracas are often played in world music.

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A maraca is a hand-held percussion instrument used in many different types of music throughout the world. Maracas are especially common in the orchestras of Latin America and South America. Maracas can be made from various combinations of natural or synthetic materials. The materials and manner in which maracas are assembled greatly influences the quality and volume of sound.

Gourd Maracas

The simplest maracas are made from dried gourds with the seeds left inside to produce a rattling noise. Gourd maracas can also be made by cutting a hole in the gourd, scraping the membrane and seeds out, inserting beans, beads or small stones and then adding a handle to seal the hole. Maracas made from gourds have a rich, non-uniform sound. Most gourd maracas are quieter than other styles of maracas.

Wood or Partly Wood Maracas

Louder maracas are made by carving thin pieces of wood into the shape of a gourd, inserting beans, beads or stones for the rattling sound and affixing a wood or plastic handle. Since the wood is hand or machine carved, the resulting maracas will have a more uniform oval or round shape, which makes their sound more consistent. Some varieties of wood-handled maracas use shaped and dried animal skin to contain the beans, beads or stones. These maracas have a thick mid-range tone and are most commonly used in salsa music.

Synthetic Maracas

Maracas can be made from synthetic materials like plastic, yet the sound is usually louder and more abrasive than with wood or gourd maracas. Synthetic maracas are durable and inexpensive, making them ideal for a child's toy. Professional musicians often favor the more expensive varieties of synthetic maracas when they need the sound to carry over amplified instruments. With some synthetic varieties, you can open the instrument and insert any type of rattling objects to get the sound you desire.

Inside-Out Maracas

Most styles of maraca make noise because of the movement of the small objects inside the instrument. However, some maracas have small beads or shells attached to strings outside the hollowed gourd. The type of gourd used to make an inside-out maraca tends to be larger than the gourds of ordinary maracas. Inside-out maracas are commonly found in West Africa, where calabash gourds are commonly used to form the instrument's base.

About the Author

Karen Smith has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles are published in the "Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History" and the upcoming "Dictionary of African Biography," as well as on Patheos.com and in volumes of "Anthropology News," "Contemporary Islam," "Islamic Africa" and "American Ethnologist." She has a Doctor of Philosophy in anthropology.

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