Many different cultures exist in the Caribbean. These cultural differences play a major role in influencing and creating Caribbean music as well as many Caribbean instruments. Caribbean rhythms rely heavily on percussion instruments as part of their African tradition. However, European instruments such as the guitar and saxophone have been adopted as well. Many instruments used across the various Caribbean islands. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Caribbean instruments.
The drum is a powerful instrument. It is the the pulse of the music and determines the general “feel” of the music it is incorporated with. The African drum is made by stretching animal hide over a hollow log which is held by wooden or metal pins. Tuning pegs are used to tighten or loosen the membrane to achieve various tones. It’s sound is produced by striking the membrane with your hands or a rounded stick.
A guitar is a string instrument played by picking or strumming its strings with your fingers or a pick. It’s three main sections are the hollow body, the neck and the head. The different strings of the guitar produce different notes based on the amount of tension on the string as well as the weight of the string. The hollow body amplifies the sounds produced by the vibrating strings. In the case of the electric guitar, magnetic pick ups sense the vibrations and turns it into audible sound using an amplifier and speaker. Guitars are very portable compared to other instruments such as the keyboard and steel drum.
The development of these Caribbean instruments displays the creativity of Caribbean people. The steel drums or steelpans originated in Trinidad. 55-gallon oil drums were transformed into musical instruments. When the oil drum is struck in its original empty state, it produces a very deep sound. Cutting the drum shorter produces higher notes. The bass pan or “boom” is the longest. Next in size is the “cellopan”, followed by the “guitar-pan”. The highest notes are produced by the “ping-pong” which is the shortest in length. The discovery that these pans could be tuned is attributed to Winston Spree Simon. Ellie Manette was the principal developer and innovator of the steel pan as we know it today.
The maracas instrument is made from dried calabash, or sometimes dried coconut shell, wood or gourd. Dried seeds are placed inside the shell which produces a unique sound when the instrument is shaken. These Caribbean instruments are very popular in Latin America as well as Cuba. Some islands refer to the maracas instrument as a “shac-shac”.