The first time I noticed the atabaque in capoeira was hearing its beat in the roda. It was keeping the pace of the game.

It’s the major drum used in the bateria (music line up) and thus supplies the base beat in capoeira music.

As I started to learn more about the drum, I’ve discovered how complex it and its history are…

Significance of the Drum

Within capoeira, the berimbau, pandeiro and this drum are the chief instruments of the roda. They provide the music for the capoeiristas to play to. The atabaque specifically keeps the beat of the rhythm provided by the berimbau.Atabaque, the drum of capoeira

The drum wasn’t always just the support for the berimbau in the bateria though. I learned from my mestre that it was most likely the first instrument that capoeira was played to. The drums were an integral part of the African culture and it makes sense that they’d provide the initial beat for the original game.

The atabaque is also used in other areas of Brazilian culture. Maculele is a dance and performance where the atabaques are heavily used to provide the beat for the dancers.

Another area of their use is in candomble. Candomble is an Afro-brazilian religion that is mainly practiced in Brazil. Here it is seen as a sacred instrument that receives a lot of respect.

Simply put, this drum is used in a lot of unique ways. This is mirrored in all of its unique parts…

Parts of the Atabaque

Just by looking at it, you can tell the atabaque is special, both in its uniqueness and creation.

I couldn’t tell why it had rope and wedges on it; I thought it was for decoration…

As I discovered, each part of the instrument has a purpose. Below I’ll go into more detail on each part.

Parts of the Brazilian atabaque drum
  • Shell – The shell is the wooden structure of the drum where the head is attached. It is usually made of Brazilian jacaranda wood, which is hollowed to make a drum shell.
  • Head – The head of the drum is what the player strikes to make the sound. This is normally made from the skin of an animal calf stretched over the top of the shell.
  • Rope – The rope attaches to the head of the drum and allows the tension to be changed. When tighter, the head has a higher pitch and when loosened the head has a lower pitch.
  • Ring – The ring surrounds the outside of the shell and is held in place with the rope and wedges. The ring keeps the rope tight against the drum.
  • Wedges – The wedges keep the ring in place and are used to tighten or loosen the drum with a hammer. When loosened, the ring rises and tension on the rope decreases. When tightened, the ring is lowered and the rope tension is increased.
  • Stand - The stand is what the drum rests on. It is made of the same wood as the drum and is used to store the drum, or play it while standing.

That covers the basics of the drum. Now for the fun part, playing it!

How to Play

Within capoeira, I’ve only learned the bare-bone basics of playing this drum. So far I’ve only used two notes to play the rhythms used in the roda. These notes are…

  • Edge (E) – The head is struck with the fingers near the edge of the drum.
  • Center (C) – The drum is struck with a hand in its center. It makes a distinctively different tone than an edge strike.

Using these two strikes, we play a couple of rhythms in capoeira. Here are the two I know.

  • Rhythm 1 – E,C,E
  • Rhythm 2 – E,E (other hand),C,E

Where to Buy

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