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Classification Percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 112.1
(Shaken idiophones or rattles)
Machito, Monguito
Robert Plant playing maracas
The sound of maracas

Maracas (   ), sometimes called rumba shakers and various other names, are percussion musical instrumentsrattles—that originated in Latin America. They are classified as idiophones. Players hold them by their handles, usually in pairs, and shake them. Traditional maracas consist of hollow balls made from dried gourd shell (cuia "koo-ya") or coconut shell filled with seeds or dried beans and mounted on a wooden handle. Modern maraca balls are also made of leather, wood, or plastic.[1]

Often, one ball is pitched high and the other low. There is archaeological evidence of clay maracas in Colombia from 1500 years ago. The word maraca is thought to have come from the Tupi language of Brazil, where it is pronounced 'ma-ra-KAH'. They are known in Trinidad, Dominica and the French Antilles as shac-shacs.[2] The leather maracas were introduced in 1955 by a Venezuelan percussionist.[3]

Maracas are a simple instrument, but require modest skill to play in time to music. When the player changes the direction of motion to produce the sound, the seeds or dried beans must travel some distance before they hit the hard outer surface. This creates a slight delay that requires that the player anticipate the rhythm. Players also strike maracas against their hand or leg to get a different sound.

In a radio program that band leader Vincent Lopez hosted in the early 1950s called Shake the Maracas, audience members competed for small prizes by playing the instrument with the orchestra. Maracas appear in many forms of Caribbean and Latin music—and also in pop and classical music. They are characteristic, for example, of the music of Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Dominica, the French Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Brazil.

Caribbean and Latin American musicians often play maracas at celebrations and special events. In rock and roll, they appear in many recordings. Bo Diddley wrote the song Bring it to Jerome about his maraca player, Jerome Green (who also played maracas for Chuck Berry).

Very loud maracas, complemented with a whistle

In Samba music, and when children play the maracas, it is popular to complement the maracas with an apito (pea whistle). This requires very loud maracas so the whistle doesn't drown them out.

List of musicians who play maracas


  1. ^ Blades, James (1992). Percussion instruments and their history (Rev. ed.). Westport, Conn.: Bold Strummer.  
  2. ^ Mendes, John (1976). Cote ce Cote la: Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary. Arima, Trinidad: Syncreators. p. 135. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Grillo, Mario. "Mario Grillo's Online Video Lesson: How-to Play Maracas". Toca Percussion. Toca artist, Mario Grillo is the son of renowned percussionist, Machito. 
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