African Idiophone Instruments
What Are They
The idiophone naturally
fascinates us: Like all African percussion instruments, it has that
ancient look. There's an abuncance of fun hand percussion and shaker
percussion in Africa. You
can learn about it in the world's
music schools - Or by just
What exactly is an idiophone?
The word means "self-sounding"
and explains it all: It's the instrument's whole body that resonates
without the need of attached membranes (that's a membranophone)
or strings (a
In Ghana, I often see
people play whatever they can find: sticks, tin
Any object that sounds when being
struck, shaken, scraped or stamped is a self-sounding instrument. So
your clapping hands and stamping feet!
Examples Of Idiophones
There are so many of them that scientists started
to categorize. Probably the most
relevant categories for
Africa are these, each with a few examples:
Primary / Secondary
actively played by a
musician through striking, shaking, scraping or stamping. Many
simple instruments need great skills and practice.
The musician doesn't really play the secondary
He just attaches them to his primary instrument or wears them on arms
and ankles. Through his
they passively add sound to the music.
Tuned / Untuned
Most percussion instruments produce only rhythm (untuned
Some primary instruments though have several pitches and can be tuned
Good to know. But what we are really
What Are Idiophones Actually Used For?
First of all, they play a significant part in:
Everyday African Life
Can't imagine what that means? Here are some examples:
- Farmers keep
their herds together or chase away wild animals.
Street vendors play
signals to get attention of potential customers.
- Fitness groups gather on
Sunday mornings for a run
through the city streets, motivated and paced by bell rhythms.
priests dramatize their processions and
ceremonies with bells and rattles that mark each of their moves.
Apart from that, self-sounding instruments also make great:
Childrens Musical Instruments
Ghanaian kids' favorite toy is the Kosikas
That's surprising, because
playing it is quite challenging even for an adult. For our non-African
colorful rattles like the Caxixi
small wooden xylophone
But even these "toys" are serious instruments in the
In traditional music ensembles, it is always present in one
form or another:
are considered the "backbone"
of traditional music.
Although they don't dictate the pace, they mark the time line
that every member of the group follows. It must therefore be
played very accurately.
(It's these distinctive sounds of the Atoke
immediately recognize a rhythm and it's ethnic origin.)
Secondary rattles and shakers
dancers or attached to
instruments are responsible for that typical spice and rootsy
feel of African music.
Various types of calabash shakers
like the Axatse
drive the music and turn up
the heat with their loud and quick rhythms.
As you see, this type of instrument shouldn't be underestimated. It is
extremely powerful and versatile type of percussion instrument
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