Samba Drumming

As part of running a series of summer samba sessions, here’s a quick primer…

Billy Cunningham

June 17, 2022

One style of drumming I have always loved the sound of is Samba and this blog is dedicated to learning more about this truly fascinating artform. In this blog we’re going to learn what Samba drumming is all about and take a brief look at how to play it.

What is Samba?

Samba is a style of music from Brazil famous for it’s infectious polyrhythms (several rhythms played at once) and played during Brazil’s annual Carnival celebrations. The Carnival runs just before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. The Carnival is a large parade of vibrant dance, outstanding costumes, uplifting singing and Samba Drumming! The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is considered to be the biggest in the world with 2 million people per day on the streets.


What are the Samba instruments?

Samba drumming is a mixture of small and large drums and many percussion instruments playing a variety of rhythms at once to create this beautifully infectious groove. The following are some of the main samba instruments.

Image courtesy
Surdo – The large drums are called Surdos and are thought to be the heartbeat of Samba drumming.  They look a little bit like large floor toms or bass drums.

Tamborim – These are small drums held in your hand and played with one stick. They look a bit like Tambourines but without the jingles.

Repinique – these drums are tuned very high and have a loud piercing sound. They are use to lead the band and introduce breaks and solos.

Ganza – These are metal shakers.

Caixa – this is like the snare drum but slightly smaller. They are played with standard drum sticks. 

Agogo bells – They are metal bells with a high and a low pitch to create different melodies.

Apito – This is a tri-tone whistle meaning it has 3 tones. The bandleader uses the whistle to signal changes in the performance (rhythm/feel/breaks etc)

What are ‘Breaks’ in Samba Music?

Samba Breaks are sections of music where there is a break from the main Samba groove to play a selection of different techniques. Sometimes there will be a Call and Response part where the bandleader will play a rhythm on the Repinique drum and the band might respond with a different rhythm in unison (together), sometimes with the same rhythm. The bandleader will signal what is happening using the Apito (whistle) and lead with this and the Repinique drum. The bandleader might also signal for section of the band to solo before the band come back in with the main groove.
Watch this video below to get a sense of how all the instruments come together when playing Samba:


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I hope you have learnt a little about what Samba drumming is and how this is played. If you have any questions please ask.

Have a great time drumming!