Shake It Up with Handheld Percussion

handheld percussion

Handheld percussion can be a great addition to many types of music. They can add some texture, help keep the beat, or simply make your song a little more fun. Not only for band performances, these instruments are also perfect for accompanying a solo act or adding some color to a drum circle. Take a look at these common types of handheld percussion instruments and consider adding some to your next performance!


Maracas Maracas

Originally a dried gourd with seeds inside, maracas come in pairs, and shaking one in each hand in different patterns can create interesting cross-rhythms. They’ve evolved since their organic, vegetable roots, and modern plastic versions are now widely played, available with handles or as “egg shakers.”


handheld percussion Shaker

The Go-Jo shaker bag by LP attaches to the hand with a strap, allowing players to generate shaker noises while playing other instruments. They won’t fly out of your hand in the middle of a jam session. Other popular models of shakers are long aluminum canisters.




This style originated from West Africa, consisting of a dried gourd and beaded netting covering the round head. With a crisp and bright sound, these maracas make noise by shaking, twisting, or hitting against the palm of the hand. While many shekeres are made from the traditional gourd, music stores sell more durable plastic and fiber models as well. 


roller Cabasa

Similar to the shekere, the cabasa has African origins and uses a steel ball chain to create the metallic noise against the ribbed, steel plate surrounding the cylinder. Twisting the cabasa creates a “rattle snake” sound. It is often used in Latin jazz and bossa nova pieces. Experienced players can create complex rhythms by holding the handle in one and using the other to move the ball chain.


tambourine Tambourine

Other than the traditional method of shaking and striking with the palm or fingers, the tambourine can also played using a “thumb roll.” This technique involves swiping a finger along the rim to produce a fast sound from the “zils,” the metal disks that clash together to give the instrument its sound.

Neil is the former Online Editor for Making Music Magazine and tested his skill with tickling the ivories once, but since having been part of the team at Making Music, he might give it a second try.

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