Basic Samba for Pandeiro in 5 Steps

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Are you stuck trying to play a samba on the pandeiro? Whether you’re just now learning how to play the pandeiro or you’re an accomplished player looking to fill in some gaps or gather new approaches, this blog lesson is for you.  I will share a practice routine that will guide you to playing a samba in 5 steps.  It is important that you follow this guide step by step as each example plays a very important role in the construction of this version of samba.  Each example builds upon the previous.  Take your time.  It’s not a race!  Master each example on the pandeiro at various tempos before moving to the next.

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Samba is unarguably the most popular rhythm and style of music from Brazil.  There are many different styles of samba that come from Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and many other states throughout Brazil.  Every group in every region of the country has their own unique approach to playing samba and the instruments associated with this music.  If you want to call yourself a complete pandeiro player (whatever that means to YOU), you must have a holistic understanding of how to play samba on the pandeiro.  And the more approaches you have under your belt, the better off you’ll be!  The example below is a style of playing samba that I learned from the great pandeiro player Marcos Suzano.  I’ve modified it over the years, however most of the original concept that I learned from Suzano have remained in place.


Keep in mind that this approach is all based on the “GRID Technique” which I discuss in this Choosing The Right Technique blog.  If you’re confused by the term Grid Technique I suggest you go back to this previous blog post and begin with the technique exercises before getting into this lesson.  Also, please keep in mind that these are exercises to help you develop the facility and technique needed to play a samba on the pandeiro.  These patterns don’t define a samba groove as much as the swing feel does.  You have to work on the swing feel as much as you work on the technique.  It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that…….  You dig!


Now, let’s start our 5 step samba practice routine.  Step #1 is all Heel-Toe-Heel-Toe with an accent on the “e” of beat 1 & 2.  This accent is IMPORTANT!  Don’t ignore it.  This accent will help you develop your samba swing feel.


Step #2 adds a muted slap tone in the center of the pandeiro in Zone 3.  (Visit blog post about the 3 pandeiro zones)  THS=Thumb Slap.



Step #3 is important as you will add the surdo part with a bass tone played with the thumb.  B=Bass with thumb.  You will begin to recognize the samba groove on thihs step.


Step #4 adds a new pick up accent on the “ah” of beat 1.  TS=Toe Slap.  You will play with your finger tips in the center of the drum (zone 3) getting a light slap sound as opposed to the louder open hand slap tone.


Now lets finish our samba pattern with Step #5 where we’ll add an open bass tone pick up on the “ah” of beat 2.  BT=Bass Toe (finger tips).  Once you master this step you should be able to begin to imitate an escola de samba groove of the 2nd and 3rd surdo parts.




Remember to take your time and use a metronome with all of these examples.  Feel free to write a comment with your feedback.


Your partner in groove,

Scott Kettner


Pandeiro Practice Routine-Bossa Nova

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Finding a practice routine for pandeiro is one of the most challenging parts of improving your skills.  If you’re just beginning to play the pandeiro, tempo is another major challenge.  So of course, If your assignment is to learn to play a samba, you’re probably freaking out about the tempo (and technique and swing feel).  But, there is a solution to help you get acclimated to playing samba and faster tempos without feeling overwhelmed.


Playing with a metronome is important, however playing with music is much more fun and educational.  I suggest that you divide your practice time between playing with a click and playing with music.  For instance, if you only have 30 minutes per day, split this practice time based on your necessity.  If you need to focus on technique spend 20mins with a metronome and 10mins with a track.  If you’re focusing on vocabulary and already have the technique thing happening, play with a click for 10mins and a track for 20mins.  You need to design your practice routine based on your needs…but just make sure you do it!


Now, back to your solution for slipping into being able to play samba.  Bossa Nova is a perfect style of music to start off with.  The swing feel, accents and many of the clave patterns are very similar to samba.  In fact, many people have described bossa nova as a slowed down samba.  Of course, that’s not 100% accurate BUT, it’s close enough for our purpose; working on our tempo, feel and samba groove.


So, here’s a couple of bossa nova tracks that I thought were at a good “tempo di learno” for you to start off playing along to.  You can use this pattern on both songs as a left wrist and accent exercise.  You can also apply different tones to each accent if you wish to bring it to the next level.


Pandeiro-Bossa Nova


Wave: Antonio Carlos Jobim – 1967







Maracatu Caixa for Baque de Imalê

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What’s the difference between the caixa part for Baque de Marcação and Baque de Imalê?  The real answer is complicated and depends on which maracatu nation and who you speak to within that specific group.  However, in that past 17 years that I’ve been studying maracatu, learning and playing with Nação Estrela Brilhante, I’ve noticed a few obvious differences.


Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion

If you already know how to play Baque de Marcação on the caixa then you’re half way there to knowing how to play Imalê.  Remember, the Marcação pattern (one of them) is RRLR-RLRL.  Imalê adds two eigth notes in the middle of the measure, which generates more energy and gives the groove a stronger sense of forward motion.  Baque de Imalê can also lend itself to a strong funk feel.  If you listen to Nação Estrela Brilhante de Igarassu you’ll notice that the caixa plays a backbeat on top of the groove.  (excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion by Scott Kettner, MicheleNascimento-Kettner and Aaron Shafer-Haiss – Hal Leonard)












Now let’s take a closer look at some of the ciaxa transcriptions from a few different traditional maracatu nations.  Here’s an Imalê part for Estrela Brilhante from my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.  You’ll notice that the only difference between this part and the Marcação part (RRLR-RLRL) is the first half of the measure and the accents.  The first half plays a hand to hand sticking pattern and then goes into the RRLR-RLRL.  The accents also change to help emphasize the two 8th notes in the middle of the measure being played on the alfaias.



Here’s another Imalê variation from Nação Cambinda Estrela.



Another popular Imalê caixa part is often played by Nação Leão Coroado.  This is another one of my favorites.  This patterns is all hand to hand.  The accents and swing feel are really what makes this caixa part so funky.  Notice that the accents help anticipate the alfaia part in the first half of the measure and then the caixa plays unison with the alfaia for the second half of the measure.  It’s fun…try it now!



I suggest that you practice these individually and with a metronome or play along with a recording of the group. Playing along with the recording will help you understand the swing feel and the roll variations.  Remember, none of these caixa parts are stagnant.  The players are constantly adding rolls and variations to help excite the music.  These examples are just the foundation for you to begin learning the maracatu caixa vocabulary.


Here’s a few videos for you to practice along with.


Estrela Brilhante



Cambinda Estrela


Leão Coroado

3 Alfaia parts for Maracatu Leão Coroado

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Maracatu Nação Leão Coroado are one of my favorite groups.  Their groove is as funky as it gets.  According to Leão Coroado’s bylaw, this group was founded on December 8, 1863 by Manoel Benedito da Silva, Laureano Manoel dos Santos, and Manoel Machado de Souza. The group was founded in the neighborhood of Boa Vista in Recife, on Leão Coroado Street, from where it took its name. (Michele Nascimento-Kettner; Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion)


But what makes their groove so funky?  One of the main elements that makes their groove so deep are the 3 different alfaia parts and how they communicate with each other, creating a trance-like vibe.  In a previous blog post I discussed how the traditional maracatu groups divide their alfaias into 3-4 parts.  You can check out that blog here.


The alfaia divisions are:

  1. Marcante is the lowest and largest drum. (22″-26″)  This drum always plays the baque (beat) and rarely plays variations.
  2. Meão is the middle pitched drum. (18″-20″)  The Meão plays variations on the baque but leaves a lot of space in their “solo” pattern.
  3. Repique is the highest pitched drum and usually the smallest drum (14″-16″).  The repeque plays a constant rolling solo that reflects what the caixas (snares) are playing.


Here’s a cool video that really shows how Leão Coroado plays Baque de Imalê on the marcante.




Here’s a written example of 3 alfaia parts from my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion (Co-Authored with Dr. Michele Nascimento-Kettner and Aaron Schafer-Haiss).

Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion
Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion



Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.
Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.


I recorded one of my favorite Leão Coroado songs on a Maracatu New York album that I produced in 2013.  My partners Aaron Schafer-Haiss, Jeff Duneman and pat Noonan and I spent a lot of time trying to capture the grit, funk and feel of LC.  Here’s the track.  You’ll really hear the 3 alfaia parts well at the end of the song after the vocals finish singing.  Where headphones for full experience.




You can get the entire Maracatu New York album on itunes.


Pandeiro Lesson #6 – Avoid Pandeiro Face!

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What is “pandeiro face” and why is it important to know?   Sometimes a student really struggles with specific exercises or grooves.  The pandeiro is not an easy instrument to play and has a lot of obstacles to jump over before you feel like you’ve reached a level of  intermediate player.  One of the biggest obstacles is tempo.  Playing at a basic forro tempo while trying to memorize where your hand and fingers should be placed are very challenging in the beginning.   The pandeiro is a physical instrument which requires the use of a lot of muscles in our hands and arms that aren’t accustomed to being used.   So, practicing can cause a lot of tension in your body, especially in your face.  In a recent workshop I asked my students to do a new exercise which required them to utilize the bass tone with their finger tips.  I wish I had a camera to capture the tension in everyone’s face as they tried to perform the exercise.  But they basically looked like this:




That’s some serious pandeiro face!  And that’s no good.  Your face has 43 muscles in it and not one of them are used to play the pandeiro.  So why would you flex your face muscles to play a groove?   Think of the amount of energy you’re wasting on your face when it could be directed to your hands and arm muscles.   All of my students do it and musicians of all levels do it too.  Hell, I make some funny ass faces when I play.  But there’s a difference between a stressed face and an expressive face.  If you’re just starting out on the pandeiro, chances are your facial expression is mostly stress not expression.


So how do you remedy this pandeiro face?  The first step is being aware of it.  Pick up your pandeiro right now… play a challenging groove at a challenging tempo and be conscious of your facial muscles.  Every time you feel them flexing, relax them.  Now you’ve accomplished your first step at channeling your energy directly to playing the pandeiro instead of flexing your face.  Just being conscious of this tick is the first step at 86’ing it.


The next step is to practice in front of a mirror.  This is really important and all instrumentalists do it.  Your posture is just as important as all of the other millions of technical things you’re thinking about.  Posture will allow you to develop dexterity, longevity and flexibility on the pandeiro and any instrument.  Watch your face in the mirror as you play those challenging grooves/tempos.  Most likely you’ll see your mouth begin to change shape first.  Don’t stop playing, rather simply relax your face and burn through it.  Look at your posture.  Are you hunching or leaning to one side?  Fix it!  If you do this enough and build a consciousness around it, you’ll start to notice that every time you play without a mirror your body will begin to correct itself and you’ll feel much more relaxed before, during and after playing.  If your goal is to master the pandeiro or just build a basic facility to play with friends or along to albums, being relaxed is key.


So, no more pandeiro face…right?




Pandeiro Lessson #4 – Slap Tones

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Let’s look at zone 3 or the center of the pandeiro.   This is where we will get our slap tones as well as some other muted tones.

Slap tones and muted bass tones.




The Brazilian Swing Feel Broken Down

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“How do I play with the Brazilian swing feel”?  I get that question ALL THE TIME!  And my answer is always the same; LISTEN and SING then LISTEN some more.  Many wise teachers always told me, “if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it”.  Amen!  You won’t learn it through osmosis or even coming to class once per week.  You have to put in some time, every day, focusing on your swing feel.  It’s not like learning a new language, it’s like learning how to speak the language you already know with a specific accent.  You already do it.  How many times have you imitated an Italian Mob Boss from Brooklyn with your fake mobster accent (Hey, you tawkin to me?), or sang a Bob Marley song with your fake Jamaican accent?   Now you have to learn how to speak music with a new accent or what we call swing feel.


If you grew up in North America or listening to N. American music such as the blues, jazz, rock n roll, soul, funk, hip-hop (should I continue?) then you have a natural tendency to play off the triplet feel.  Most of our music is based on the triplet, therefore playing a shuffle comes naturally or at least it should.  But many of us didn’t grow up listening to and playing Brazilian music. (I’m assuming my audience is not Brazilian here)  That doesn’t mean that we can’t play with the Brazilian swing feel accurately, it just means we need to absorb it.  And that presents the first assignment; LISTEN.  Listen to as much Brazilian music that you can get your hands on.  Samba, choro, MPB, bossa nova, maracatu, coco and forro. (there’s plenty more).  You need to absorb the swing feel.  Imagine yourself spending 2 years living in the UK.  Most likely you’ll come back being able to speak with a pretty good accent.   Do the same with the Brazilian swing feel.  Expect it to take 2 years at least just to get a basic understanding.


The next step is to sing the rhythm.  When I was living in Brazil I had an amazing teacher named Levy Miranda at a school in São Paulo called Groove.   He taught me some syllables to learn the swing feel that forever changed my understanding of it.  Here’s how it goes;


Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta………and it keeps going and going.


I bolded the Ta’s because those are syllables you should sing with an accent (louder).  This will help shape your swing feel and is a very accurate way for feeling rhythms such as maracatu and samba.   Put on a metronome at 60bpm and sing this pattern over and over.  Do this for about 2-3mins.  Now put on a Brazilian song that heavily leans on this feel and sing along trying to match what you’re hearing on the recording.  If you do this every day for 6months-1 year, you’ll start to develop a deeper understanding of the Brazilian swing feel.  Some people might take less or more time.  It’s not about how much time it takes you, it’s about the journey and the discovery.


There’s a lot of theories and methods to help you understand this swing feel as well.  My good friend Michael Spiro has a method that he calls “Fix-Time” in his book The Conga Drummers Guidebook.  He describes the swing feel as not being in Four/4 time or Six/8 time but rather something that’s in between a combination of these two feels called FIX time.


Another good friend of mine, Stanton Moore showed me a method that he uses to help demonstrate this swing feel.  He plays 3 against 2 in both hands.  After that, take out the flam so that you’re basically playing hand to hand (R-L-R-L).  You’re still is a 3 against 2 feel.  Now accent the first and 4th notes (R-L-R-L).  The next step is to slightly straighten this 6 feel…SLIGHTLY!  If you do it right…bam…you got it!   Here’s a video I did a while ago for Vic Firth where I discuss the swing feel and demonstrate Stanton’s method (at 4:20)