The Capoeira Blog

Intro To Capoeira Music: The Atabaque, Pandeiro, and Supporting Instruments
July 9, 2008, 8:33 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides

Photo by faisca (Flickr)

Welcome to the fourth part of the Introduction to Capoeira Music series, where we will learn a bit more about the rest of capoeira’s orchestra.

The berimbau may be capoeira’s most famous and unique instrument, but capoeira’s sound is not truly complete without the accompaniment of the atabaque and pandeiro (and in some cases, the reco reco and agogo).

The atabaque and pandeiro are rhythm instruments more commonly known as a drum and tambourine, respectively. The capoeira game can be played without these two instruments, but it probably won’t be as lively or energetic if they are missing.

Hopefully when you’re done reading this post, you’ll know a little more about each instrument, and you’ll be able to take some basic rhythms with you to practice.


Photo from Wikipedia

The atabaque is a drum typically made from Brazilian jacaranda wood and animal skin. You play the atabaque with your hands, and most of the time while standing.

The basic rhythm is pretty easy to start with (definitely easier at first than the berimbau, in my opinion), but it gets a bit tricky when you are playing with the rest of the instruments and singing in a frantic roda. Like everything else: practice makes perfect.

This is a basic atabaque rhythm:

Once you get the hang of the basics, you can move on to other rhythms like maculele and samba de roda. And when you really start progressing, you can begin adding flourishes and improvisations to the basic rhythms.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the atabaque:

  • Keep your hands relaxed while playing.
  • There should be a distinct difference in sound when you hit the middle of the atabaque head and the edge.
  • The atabaque should not be played so loud that it overpowers the berimbau.
  • When switching atabaque players, try to switch quickly and not miss a beat.


Photo by jandoo (Flickr)

The pandeiro plays essentially the same part as the atabaque: it keeps the rhythm.

Its smaller than the atabaque, but don’t let the pandeiro’s small stature fool you; it still takes time to master, and could even be considered harder to learn than the atabaque. But because it is small (not to mention less expensive) it’s more practical to learn on in the comfort of your own home. And you can then take what you learn on the pandeiro and apply it to the atabaque when you’re in class.

It takes a bit of dexterity to play the pandeiro well, because truly getting the most out of the instrument requires you to use the fingers, thumb, palm, and heel of your hand.

These are some basic pandeiro rhythms:

You probably noticed that it sounds a lot like the basic atabaque rhythm. Good obvservation! The basic rhythms are the same, you just play the pandeiro with one hand instead of two. And just like the atabaque, once you get good at the pandeiro you can improvide and add your own flourishes.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the pandeiro:

  • Hitting the middle of the pandeiro should produce a tone different from hitting the edge.
  • You can change the tone of the rim hit by pressing your thumb against the skin.
  • Try to practice the pandeiro on both hands so you can switch if you start to get tired.
  • “Don’t spank the pandeiro. Enough said.”

Supporting Instruments

These final two instruments are not played in all capoeira rodas, and in my experience, are more likely to be found in angola rodas than regional.

Reco Reco

Photo from LSC

The reco reco is a a bamboo instrument played by scraping a stick across grooves in the body.

I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but here are a few good tips:

  • The rhythm is 1-2-3 (rest).
  • Don’t make all the scrapes in the same direction. Try towards you (1), away (2), towards you (3).


Photo from LSC

The agogo is a high pitched bell. It is played by tapping a stick against the bells.

Again, I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but I offer you a few words of wisdom:

  • The agogo has a high sound that can be heard above the other instruments, so stay on the beat.
  • Some groups play high-low-high, while others play low-high-low.

This concludes our Intro to Capoeira Music series. I will follow up with an appendix of useful resources so you can expand upon what you’ve learned. I hope this series has been useful and enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I hope you have too!


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Faisca, nice to hear from you again! A nice and comprehensive overview for the percussion instruments, which you gave. Actually, what counts for the Atabaque, counts for all percussion instruments – do not overpower the Berimbau. The Berimbau is the master of the roda, right?
Anyway, was quite silent around here, so – would be nice to hear more often from you! 😉


Comment by Angoleiro

Thanks for the kind words, Angoleiro. I definitely need to get to regular updating and posting. I have some ideas brewing, so I’ll be sure to keep things flowing!

Comment by faisca

Greetings from Mexico! You have a very interesting blog, the info is clear for us newbies and not as superficial as most Capoeira sites I’ve found so far, keep it up and muito Axé!

Comment by Lokuzt

Nice work, Faisca! I think this series will become a great and valuable resource for tons of capoeiristas to come. =)

Comment by Joaninha

Great job! the area after, “These are some basic pandeiro rhythms” is blank for me. I tried to refresh the page but it’s still no there. hmmm.

My favorite instrument to play is the atabaque! I’m decent at the berimbau and it’s quickly becoming easier and easier to handle and play.

Comment by Pipoca

Never mind! It all showed up. My connection got all botched up.

Comment by Pipoca

Well done Faisca. Enough said! 🙂

Comment by Mike

hey faisca, didnt hear nothing from you since EONS! what’s happening? I hope your missing has a good reason (summer vacations, a good cocktail at a sunny beach, these are reasons that ARE good!) and hope to read something new and interesting soon! 😉

Comment by angoleiro

Hey Faisca, you’re really on top of the whole updating your blog thing eh??

Comment by Urso

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