The Little Drum and Percussion Page

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Starting Up A band ?

If you would like to start a Samba percussion Group or indeed any kind of Percussion Group and you don't know how to go about it see our Start Up page.

for Samba Instruments by Gope, Bauer, Remo, RMV, etc.


Purchase Cuica

The sounds from The Cuica are produced by rubbing a damp cloth along the stick inside the drum. The cloth is held around the stick by the thumb, index and middle finger of the right hand. The left hand helps to hold the drum which hangs from a strap around the shoulder or neck or a harness. Short sharp strokes produce higher pitched notes and Slow long strokes produce lower pitched notes. Pitch can also be controlled by pinching the rod tighter and/or by pressing the thumb or fingers of the left hand onto the head, close to the centre.

The cuica is an individual sounding instrument and is usually improvised although there are several standard patterns that can be used as a basis to launch improvisations and a haven to return to when it gets a bit frantic.

KEY    U = Up    ie. Towards the Head        D = Down    ie. Away from the Head

The first pattern is a good one for practising.

Then try this Samba phrase which should sound familiar.

Some patterns relying more heavily on the off beat





Here is an interesting and humorous description of the different sounds that can be made on the Cuica and the techniques employed to achieve them. It is authored by Matthew Dubuque (e-mail ).

One's approach to cuica playing can not be taken too seriously.

 It is best to play the smallest cuica you can find.  They squeal more, contributing greatly to what is known as "the distressed hamster" effect.

 One should first understand basic samba rhythms when plaything the  instrument. Many excellent grooves are found simply by omitting various notes of this samba motif.  The motif supplied by Trevor Salloum in his bongo
 instuctional books is not horrible.

 One of the raisins why I like the cuica is that there are no players allowed into recording studios at present (this could change) who feel that playing a guaguanco rhythm on the cuica is somehow appropriate.
 I find this deeply reassuring, a tranquil refuge from the guaguanco hegemons and their hackneyed ways.

 The cuica can be described as the mockingbird of musical instruments. You may use the cuica in your playing to alternate among various animal sounds.

 One of my favorite cuica solos is on a very rare Bola Sete album (not available on CD yet) played by yes, you guessed it, Armando Peraza. (92 year old Master Percussionist formerly with Santana - Ed.)

 In this cuica solo, Armando really seems to master a wide range of animal voices.  For example, he starts the solo off with a series of low, vibrating growls which sound like a menacing dog with just a fine
 hint of a snarl, similar to the finish on a fine wine.

 (Note that it is only possible to obtain this sound with the fingers of your other hand NOT pressing in on the drum head.  You need as deep a tone as possible for this.)

 Armando then proceeds to the well-known warning cries of a furious rhinocerous.  All that is missing is the foot-stomping which usually accompanies these displays in the wild or in zoos where captive rhinos
 have been forced to listen to endless tape loops of Marisleysis Gonzales wailing and moaning and describing her love for her "little Elian".

 This "rhino fury" sound is difficult to master and can best be produced by only stroking the internal cuica stick AWAY from the head to produce the series of pure, unwavering squeals necessary to imitate
 this emotion.

 The short solo then reaches it's inevitable Peraza climax when Armando launches into a "terrified hamster squeal" mode.

 These hamster squeals sit on that quintessential 3-dimensional cusp between (among?) sounding intolerably bizarre, unbelievably hilarious and strangely evocative of the universal suffering of small,
 irrelevant animals everywhere.

These extremely high pitched noises are produced by very short and rapid strokes on the part of the stick closest to the cuica head, while simultaneously depressing the center of the drum with the other


 As you can see, the cuica is a very versatile instrument.  You can use it in large gatherings ranging from a gathering of Midwestern Republican party faithfuls to your local raves; the cuica has a very
 broad appeel in deed.

 I am starting to learn to play the cuica in a new way.  In one hand I play a large cuica and with the other hand I play a very small (around 7-inch) one.

 I tune them a fifth apart.  By playing two cuicas at once, I now have a little portable animal symphony.

 Stranded among the eaters of American red meat,

 I remain

 Matthew Dubuque

If you would like to start a Samba percussion Group or indeed any kind of Percussion Group and you don't know how to go about it see our Start Up page.

I hope that you have found some of this useful. Let me know! Come back soon to check for updates.


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All the material on this site is Copyright Phil Little 2002