Brazilian Percussion Diary 1: Pandeiro Workshop w/ Celsinho Silva From Brazil

27 November, 2012


I just returned from an inspiring, energizing workshop by one of the  greatest living masters of the pandeiro on the planet. The son of one of Brazil’s living legends of the instrument, Celsinho embodies the 3-headed Brazilian monster of groove, feel and sensuality unique to musicians of their country.

What is a pandeiro? It’s a small or medium-sized tambourine-type frame drum: a flat, moderate diameter drum, with an animal skin (if you want a good sound) and uniquely dry-sounding jingles (the little cymbals attached to the wooden shell, as found on any tambourine).

Here’s why the pandeiro has been calling my name loud and clear for at least two decades now (and I’ve had a few lessons/pointers on the instrument but never as thorough as tonight): it is a miniature handheld drumkit. That’s right–with this little drum, especially if it’s properly tuned, maybe with a bit of tape applied to the skin on the non-playing side–when you play one of these things close-mic’d, they sound like a phat, phunky drum kit–complete with kick drum (low thud sound), snare (slaps or fingertip strokes) and hi-hat (when you get those dry, metallic jingles going just right).

Much of my concept of frame drum playing (including bodhran) is build essentially around extending my nearly 4 decades of playing standard North American drum set into other instruments, styles, territories. I do this quite a bit on bodhran, my other frame drums, and now more seriously, the Brazilian pandeiro drum.

Apparently, Celsinho Silva’s father, Jorge Silva (a.k.a. Jorginho do Pandeiro) was one of the originators of what is often called the Marco Suzano technique: the dry, close-mic’d sound that Suzano often uses just with him playing in a group–and grooving as heavy as any skilled, funky drum set player (or samba drum section)….but on this little tambourine! In a nutshell, the playing technique involves rocking the drum back and forth with the nondominant hand to create rhythmic momentum with the jingles, while the player’s stronger hand articulates the beats and accents. Jorge apparently continues to be active and playing great. I hope to see/hear him soon–apparently he plays live on Brazilian national radio every Monday from 5-7pm. I plan to work out the timing of this and tune in via the stations live stream.

And by the way, another huge inspiration (not only on pandeiro but as a vocalist, drum kit player, composer, musical innovator) is Airto: Airto Moreira.  Just as Celsinho is one of the grand master accompanists/groovers on pandeiro, Airto is a bring-down-the-house soloist and creator of shamanic spirit journeys on the instrument. Airto has been a key player in really getting me to explore and learn more about this rich instrument–which one can arguably refer to as the heart and soul of Brazilian percussion: it contains all the sounds, textures and grooves of Brazilian percussion/ rhythms.

So if you are a percussionist or a drummer wishing to dig deeper into pandeiro playing, have a peek at my ‘lesson notes’ from tonight’s workshop. If they make zero sense, please keep an eye on my videos page here–I plan to put up a few attempts and physically illustrating some of the tips and techniques offered by the great Celsinho.

Of possible interest to percussionist/drummers/students of pandeiro:  Lesson/workshop notes from pandeiro workshop with Celso do Pandeiro: Ripley-Grier studios, New York NY, November 27, 2012.

Celsinho do Pandeiro

Father-Celso do Pandeiro-plays on Radio Nationale do Brasil every Monday 5-7pm Rio time

Practice sequence:
Grip: inside 1st joint of fingers, thumb over rim but not muting/touching skin (except for effect, pitch bends etc).

1st pandeiro movement pattern:
”Heel-tips” — 8th notes, even sound, back & forth, between pad of right palm and 1st 2 or 3 fingertips, near rim. At about ”2 or 3 o’clock” on drum skin. Hand is relaxed & very lightly curved; position does NOT CHANGE. Only the rotating left hand is moving.

2nd pandeiro movement pattern:
Same as 1st but add one accent with thumb on 1st beat of each 4/4 measure.

3rd pandeiro movement pattern:
Reverse direction — tips-heel-tips-heel in steady 8th notes. Hand is very still, left hand is active.

4th pandeiro movement exercise:
Add a single accent w/ fingertips on 1, with ”cobra strike” wrist lunge forward in right hand.

Step 5 — play basic samba groove in this pattern

Step 6: basic baião groove starting w/ thumb

Also: he demonstrated a marcha, and incredible finger bounce ”double” for a fast frevo beat (ta-ti na ta – ti na with every 1st thumb beat muffled by middle finger on grip hand, every other accent open, like a simple ”surdo” beat.