Sunday, 27 February 2011

Tambourine technique.

Tambourine is probably one of the "accessory instruments" I like to play the most. Its possibilities are almost endless, and the ammount of techniques and tricks you can use on it are countless.

Few days ago, I played for the Asturias Symphony Orchestra a work with a very interesting tambourine part: "Romeo and Juliet" by Hector Berlioz. Here´s the video of one of the concerts (you´ll have to crank the volume up, as audio hasn´t been compressed):

As always, here you have the music:

As you can see, between rehearsal numbers 18 and 19, I use a peculiar technique which consists in swinging between the middle finger and the thumb. There are several ways you could play this passage, but I used this technique because I can keep the instrument high (keeping the visual factor, which is important to the public), because I can even both rhythmycally and timbrically my strokes, and because it helps me getting the phrasing I want (energy on the first note, coming all the following ones from that first impulse, and then tappering down the motif).

To play this technique, we have to even our fingers lenght in order to get all strokes of the same intensity. For this, make your right hand adopt the shape of an inverted "C":

© David Valdés

Don´t play with your fingers stretched, as your thumb is shorter and you wouldn´t get your strokes even:

© David Valdés

With the correct position, put your fingers on the frame (this way, you´ll be on the jingles, they´ll react inmediately to your stroke and won´t be late. You will also get a clearer sound, as the head won´t sound, just the jingles):

© David Valdés

© David Valdés

Don´t play as in the following picture, as your thumb will be more on the head, thus producing a different sound. It´s not a good posture, as you´ll have to use to movements: a piston stroke with your fingers, and a rotary one with your thumb. The "C" position is better, as it uses just one movement and is more efficient.

© David Valdés

Once you are correctly situated on the instrument, you swing back and forth between middle finger and thumb, trying to even and homogenize the sound produced by the two different strokes. Here´s a video that illustrates it:

This technique can be used on many excerpts: "España" (Chabrier), "Iberia" (Debussy), "Scheherezade" (Rimsky-Korsakov), "Alborada del Gracioso", "Rhapsody Espagnol" (Ravel), "Nutcracker" (Tchaikovsky), "Symphony #3" (Mahler)...

Also, this technique is fantastic for playing one, two and three notes ornaments. With little modifications, we can get dynamics above forte and play things like "Trepak" from ""Nutcracker" (yes, I played it not using my knee). 

If you want a versatile technique, I recommend you trying this one, as its applications are numerous.

…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés


  1. what is the type of the tambourine that you used in the second video?i means the small one.

  2. It´s an eight inches double row tambourine, a dirty cheap instrument you can find under many different brands (all of them manufactured by the same company). It costs almost nothing. Something like this, but measuring 8":

    Hope it helps.