Last updated
Percussion instrument
Classification hand percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 111.141
(Directly struck concussive idiophone)
Related instruments
Crotalum, Zill
Castanets seller in Granada, Spain Castanets1.jpg
Castanets seller in Granada, Spain
Renoir's 1909 painting Dancing girl with castanets Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Dancing girl with castanets.jpg
Renoir's 1909 painting Dancing girl with castanets

Castanets, also known as clackers or palillos, are a percussion instrument (idiophone), used in Spanish, Kalo, Moorish, [1] Ottoman, Italian, Sephardic, Swiss, and Portuguese music. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome there was a similar instrument called the crotalum. The instrument consists of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string. They are held in the hand and used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks. They are traditionally made of hardwood (chestnut; Spanish: castaño), [1] although fibreglass has become increasingly popular.


In practice, a player usually uses two pairs of castanets. One pair is held in each hand, with the string hooked over the thumb and the castanets resting on the palm with the fingers bent over to support the other side. Each pair will make a sound of a slightly different pitch.

The origins of the instrument are not known. The practice of clicking hand-held sticks together to accompany dancing is ancient, and was practiced by both the Greeks and the Egyptians. In more modern times, the bones and spoons used in Minstrel show and jug band music can also be considered forms of the castanet.

During the baroque period, castanets were featured prominently in dances. Composers like Jean-Baptiste Lully scored them for the music of dances which included Spaniards (Ballet des Nations), Egyptians (Persée, Phaëton), Ethiopians (Persée, Phaëton), and Korybantes (Atys). In addition, they are often scored for dances involving less pleasant characters such as demons ( Alceste ) and nightmares (Atys). Their association with African dances is even stated in the ballet Flore (1669) by Lully, " les Africains inventeurs des danses de Castagnettes entrent d'un air plus gai "

A rare occasion where the normally accompanying instrument is given concertant solo status is Leonardo Balada's Concertino for Castanets and Orchestra Three Anecdotes (1977). The "Conciertino für Kastagnetten und Orchester" by the German composer Helmut M. Timpelan, in cooperation with the castanet virtuoso, José de Udaeta, is another solo work for the instrument. See also the Toccata Festiva for castanets by Allan Stephenson. Sonia Amelio has also performed her castanet arrangements as a concert soloist.

In the late Ottoman Empire, köçeks not only danced but played percussion instruments, especially a type of castanet known as the çarpare, which in later times were replaced by metal cymbals called zills .

Castanets in Spain

Castanets are often played by singers or dancers. Castanets are commonly used in the flamenco dance. In fact, Spanish folk dance "Sevillanas" is the style typically performed using castanet. Escuela bolera, a balletic dance form, is also accompanied by castanets. The name (Spanish: castañuelas) is derived from the diminutive form of castaña, the Spanish word for chestnut, which they resemble. In Andalusia they are usually referred to as palillos (little sticks) instead, and this is the name by which they are known in flamenco.

Kocek troupe at 1720 celebration fair at Sultan Ahmed's sons' circumcision. Koceks - Surname-i Vehbi.jpg
Köçek troupe at 1720 celebration fair at Sultan Ahmed's sons' circumcision.

Castanets were used to evoke a Spanish atmosphere in Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen . They are also found in the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Richard Strauss' opera Salome and in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser . An unusual variation on the standard castanets can be found in Darius Milhaud's Les Choëphores, which calls for castanets made of metal. Other uses include Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol , Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole , Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor and Karl Jenkins's Tangollen.

One can also see Spanish influence in the music of Naples through the presence of castanets, as it was registered by Athanasius Kircher on his Tarantella Napoletana (tono hypodorico).

Mounted castanets

When used in an orchestral or jug band setting, castanets are sometimes attached to a handle, or mounted to a base to form a pair of machine castanets. This makes them easier to play, but also alters the sound, particularly for the machine castanets. It is possible to produce a roll on a pair of castanets in any of the three ways in which they are held. When held in the hand, they are bounced against the fingers and palm of the hand; on sticks, bouncing between fingers and the player's thigh is one accepted method. For a machine castanet, a less satisfactory roll is obtained by the rapid alternation of the two castanets with the fingers.

Handle castanets

Handle castanets were developed for use in orchestral music. A pair of castanets are fitted onto the end of a straight piece of wood. They are useful for producing a sustained roll, especially loud rolls, on the instrument. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cymbal</span> Unpitched percussion instrument

A cymbal is a common percussion instrument. Often used in pairs, cymbals consist of thin, normally round plates of various alloys. The majority of cymbals are of indefinite pitch, although small disc-shaped cymbals based on ancient designs sound a definite note. Cymbals are used in many ensembles ranging from the orchestra, percussion ensembles, jazz bands, heavy metal bands, and marching groups. Drum kits usually incorporate at least a crash, ride, or crash/ride, and a pair of hi-hat cymbals. A player of cymbals is known as a cymbalist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flamenco</span> Genre of Spanish music and dance

Flamenco, in its strictest sense, is an art form based on the various folkloric music traditions of southern Spain, developed within the gitano subculture of the region of Andalusia, and also having historical presence in Extremadura and Murcia. In a wider sense, the term is used to refer to a variety of both contemporary and traditional musical styles typical of southern Spain. Flamenco is closely associated to the gitanos of the Romani ethnicity who have contributed significantly to its origination and professionalization. However, its style is uniquely Andalusian and flamenco artists have historically included Spaniards of both gitano and non-gitano heritage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Percussion instrument</span> Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater including attached or enclosed beaters or rattles struck, scraped or rubbed by hand or struck against another similar instrument. Excluding zoomusicological instruments and the human voice, the percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments. In spite of being a very common term to designate instruments, and to relate them to their players, the percussionists, percussion is not a systematic classificatory category of instruments, as described by the scientific field of organology. It is shown below that percussion instruments may belong to the organological classes of ideophone, membranophone, aerophone and cordophone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tambourine</span> Handheld drum with metal jingles

The tambourine is a musical instrument in the percussion family consisting of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles, called "zills". Classically the term tambourine denotes an instrument with a drumhead, though some variants may not have a head. Tambourines are often used with regular percussion sets. They can be mounted, for example on a stand as part of a drum kit, or they can be held in the hand and played by tapping, hitting, or shaking the instrument.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philippe Quinault</span>

Philippe Quinault, French dramatist and librettist, was born in Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bones (instrument)</span> Musical instrument

The bones, also known as rhythm bones, are a folk instrument that, in their original form, consists of a pair of animal bones, but may also be played on pieces of wood or similar material. Sections of large rib bones and lower leg bones are the most commonly used bones, although wooden sticks shaped like true bones are now more often used. Metal spoons may be used instead, as is common in the United States, known as "playing the spoons". The technique probably arrived in the U.S. via Irish and other European immigrants, and has a history stretching back to ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. They have contributed to many music genres, including 19th century minstrel shows, traditional Irish and Scottish music, the blues, bluegrass, zydeco, French-Canadian music, and music from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. The clacking of the loose rib bones produces a much sharper sound than the zydeco washboard or frottoir, which mimics rattling a bone up and down a fixed ribcage.

Northwest Iberian folk music is a traditional highly distinctive folk style, located along Spain's north-west Atlantic coast, mostly Galicia and Asturias, that has some similarities with the neighbouring area of Cantabria. The music is characterized by the use of bagpipes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claves</span> Musical instrument

Claves are a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of short, wooden sticks about 20–25 centimeters long and about 2.5 centimeters in diameter. Although traditionally made of wood many modern manufacturers offer claves made of fiberglass or plastic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crotales</span> Percussion instrument

Crotales, sometimes called antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. Each is about 10 cm (4 in) in diameter with a flat top surface and a nipple on the base. They are commonly played by being struck with hard mallets. However, they may also be played by striking two disks together in the same manner as finger cymbals, or by bowing. Their sound is rather like a small tuned bell, only with a much brighter sound and a much longer resonance. Similar to tuned finger cymbals, crotales are thicker and larger; they also have slight grooves in them. The name comes from the Greek crotalon, for a castanet or rattle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ratchet (instrument)</span> Idiophone

A ratchet or rattle, more specifically, cog rattle is a musical instrument of the percussion family and a warning/signaling device. It operates on the principle of the ratchet device, using a gearwheel and a stiff board mounted on a handle, which rotates freely. Variants include the gragger used in Judaism, the rapach, and the raganella.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cajón</span> Box-shaped percussion instrument

A cajón is a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces with the hands, fingers, or sometimes implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. Cajones are primarily played in Afro-Peruvian music, but have made their way into flamenco as well. The term cajón is also applied to other box drums used in Latin American music, such as the Cuban cajón de rumba and the Mexican cajón de tapeo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zill</span> Small metallic cymbals

Zills or zils, also called finger cymbals, are small metallic cymbals used in belly dancing and similar performances. They are called sāgāt in Egypt. They are similar to Tibetan tingsha bells. In Western music, several pairs can be set in a frame to make a tambourine.

Rumba flamenca, also known as flamenco rumba or simply rumba, is a palo (style) of flamenco music developed in Andalusia, Spain. It is known as one of the cantes de ida y vuelta, music which diverged in the new world, then returned to Spain in a new form. The genre originated in the 19th century in Andalusia, southern Spain, where Cuban music first reached the country.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seguidilla</span> Old Castilian folk song and dance form

The seguidilla is an old Castilian folksong and dance form in quick triple time for two people with many regional variations. The music is generally in a major key and often begins on an offbeat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flamenco guitar</span> Acoustic guitar used in Flamenco music

A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It usually has nylon strings, like the classical guitar, but it generally possesses a livelier, more gritty sound compared to the classical guitar. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.

This is a glossary of terms that relate to flamenco arts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spoon (musical instrument)</span> Percussion instrument

Spoons can be played as a makeshift percussion instrument, or more specifically, an idiophone related to the castanets. They are played by hitting one spoon against the other.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean-Baptiste Lully</span> Italian-born French composer (1632–1687)

Jean-Baptiste Lully was an Italian-born French composer, guitarist, violinist, and dancer who is considered a master of the French Baroque music style. Best known for his operas, he spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France and became a French subject in 1661. He was a close friend of the playwright Molière, with whom he collaborated on numerous comédie-ballets, including L'Amour médecin, George Dandin ou le Mari confondu, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, Psyché and his best known work, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.

<i>Flamenco Road</i> 2001 album by Michael Laucke

Flamenco Road is an album by Michael Laucke, released on September 12, 2001. The album consists mainly of his own compositions in the new flamenco style, which he also arranged. In an interview for Voir magazine, Laucke stated: "It is also very influenced by my classical background. So it's a smoother flamenco." An example of this style from the album can be heard in Laucke's treatment of the well-known classical guitar transcription "Leyenda", which is given a flamenco rendition using several percussion instruments, bass, and flute.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crotalus (liturgy)</span> Liturgical clapper used during the Pascal Triduum

A crotalus, also known as a crotalum or clapper, is a wooden liturgical rattle or clapper that replaces altar bells during the celebration of the Tridentine Paschal Triduum at the end of Lent in the Catholic Church. It is also occasionally used during the celebration of the Ordinary Form Roman Missal during the Paschal Triduum, but its popularity decreased following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.