Rattle (percussion instrument)

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Rattle from Papua New Guinea, made from leaves, seeds and coconut shell, to be tied around a dancer's ankle PNG Rattle QM-r.jpg
Rattle from Papua New Guinea, made from leaves, seeds and coconut shell, to be tied around a dancer’s ankle
Maracas from Mexico Rattle-mexico hg.jpg
Maracas from Mexico
Rattles from Pompeii. Rattles from Pompeii.jpg
Rattles from Pompeii.

A rattle is a type of percussion instrument which produces a sound when shaken. Rattles are described in the Hornbostel–Sachs system as Shaken Idiophones or Rattles (112.1). [1]


Rattles include:

Though there are many different sorts of rattles, some music scores indicate simply a rattle (or the corresponding terms French claquette, hochet; Ger. Rassel, Schnarre; It. nacchere). [2]



Raven Rattle, 19th century, Brooklyn Museum Raven Rattle, 19th century, 05.588.7292.jpg
Raven Rattle, 19th century, Brooklyn Museum

In Ancient Egypt, rattles were used during funerary rituals to signify regeneration in the after-life. Rattles were viewed as sacred and became the forerunners of the sistrum. The earliest Egyptian rattles were ovular and made of pottery. During the Predynastic and Old Kingdom periods rattles gained handles and different shapes and were made out of different materials such as basket, wood, and stone. [3]

Native American people often use rattles in ceremonial dances. Oftentimes, these rattles are meant to represent something. Each figure or depiction can relate to something sacred to their tribe. [4] Often, the sound of rattles forms a connection to the supernatural world when the rattles are employed by shamans. The use of the raven rattle, like the one pictured to the right, always implies power, which when used in dances, symbolize the status of the chief, who has a hereditary right to use the rattle. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

Percussion instrument 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.

Musical instrument classification

In the study of musical instruments, organology, there are many different methods of classifying musical instruments. Most methods are specific to a particular cultural group and were developed to serve the requirements of that culture and its musical needs. Such classification schemes often break down when applied outside of their original context. For example, a classification based on instrument use may fail when applied to culture which has a different use, or even multiple uses, for the same instrument.


A maraca, sometimes called rumba shaker or chac-chac, is a rattle which appears in many genres of Caribbean and Latin music. It is shaken by a handle and usually played as part of a pair.

Hornbostel–Sachs or Sachs–Hornbostel is a system of musical instrument classification devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, and first published in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie in 1914. An English translation was published in the Galpin Society Journal in 1961. It is the most widely used system for classifying musical instruments by ethnomusicologists and organologists. The system was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) Project.


An aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.


An idiophone is any musical instrument that creates sound primarily by the vibration of the instrument itself, without the use of air flow, strings (chordophones) or membranes (membranophones). It is the first of the four main divisions in the original Hornbostel–Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification. The early classification of Victor-Charles Mahillon called this group of instruments autophones. The most common are struck idiophones, or concussion idiophones, which are made to vibrate by being struck, either directly with a stick or hand or indirectly, by way of a scraping or shaking motion. Various types of bells fall into both categories. A common plucked idiophone is the Jew's harp.


A metallophone is any musical instrument in which the sound-producing body is a piece of metal, consisting of tuned metal bars, tubes, rods, bowls, or plates. Most frequently the metal body is struck to produce sound, usually with a mallet, but may also be activated by friction, keyboard action, or other means.

The Ahoko is a traditional percussion instrument originating from the central part of Ivory Coast in West Africa.


A damaru is a small two-headed drum, used in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. In Hinduism, the damaru is known as the instrument of the deity Shiva, associated with Tantric traditions. It is said to be created by Shiva to produce spiritual sounds by which the whole universe has been created and regulated. In Tibetan Buddhism, the damaru is used as an instrument in tantric practices.

Struck idiophones is one of the categories of idiophones that are found in the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification.

Barril de bomba

The barril de bomba is a traditional drum used in bomba music of Puerto Rico. The barriles de bomba are built from the wood of rum storage barrels and goatskin, adjusted with tourniquets, screws, cuñas or wedges. At least two drums are required to perform bomba music and dance: a Primo or subidor, the lead drum who follows the dancer, and the buleador, which keep a steady beat.

Egg shaker

An egg shaker or ganzá is a hand percussion instrument, in the idiophone category, that makes a noise when shaken. Functionally it is similar to a maraca. Typically the outer casing or container is ovoidal or egg-shaped. It is partially full of small, loose objects, such as seeds or beads, which create the percussive sounds as they collide, both with each other and with the inside surface of the container. The egg shaker is a Latin American instrument, cheap to buy and relatively simple to play.

Musical instrument Device created or adapted to make musical sounds

A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. A person who plays a musical instrument is known as an instrumentalist. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for rituals, such as a horn to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications and technologies.

Classification of percussion instruments

There are several overlapping schemes for the classification of percussion instruments.

The takuapu is a musical percussion instrument used by the indigenous Guaraní people of South America, made from a hollow bamboo tube. The player grasps the takuapu in the middle, holds it vertically, and drops it so that it strikes the ground, producing a deep sound. The name takuapu is a compound of the Guaraní words takua (‘bamboo’) and pu (‘sound’).


  1. Erich M. von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, "Classification of Musical Instruments," Translated from the original German by Anthony Baines and Klaus P. Wachsmann, The Galpin Society Journal XIV (1961), 15-16, https://www.jstor.org/stable/842168.
  2. Blades, James & Schechter, John M. (2001). "Rattle". In Root, Deane L. (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Oxford University Press.
  3. Arroyos, Rafael Pérez (2003). Egypt: Music in the Age of the Pyramids (1st ed.). Madrid: Centro de Estudios Egipcios. p. 29. ISBN   8493279617.
  4. "Native American Rattles". Indians.org. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  5. "Raven Rattle". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 22 July 2014.