10 Popular Hand Percussion Instruments (How to Play & FAQ)

The most interesting sounds and often the spice in the percussion section tend to stem from some of the most unique and fun instruments. This includes many different types of hand percussion instruments!

Hand percussion instruments are that are held in your hand. They can come in many shapes and sizes and can be made of wood, metal, or even plastic. Some examples of hand percussion instruments include the kalimbas, maracas, and tambourines. They can also be referred to as Auxiliary percussion instruments.

Some people might look down on these instruments because they consider them too easy to be played; however, they’re more challenging than they seem. Keep reading to learn more all about hand percussion instruments and how to play them.

What Are Hand Percussion Instruments?

Hand percussion instruments are instruments that can be held in your hand. Generally have a limited range of tones and are played to add interesting percussive sounds to music of all different types of genres.

The most popular hand percussion instruments that will be discussed in this article are:

  • Maracas
  • Tambourine
  • Cabasa
  • Claves
  • Castanets
  • Finger Cymbals
  • Bells
  • Triangle
  • Shakers
  • Guiro

Hand percussion instruments are played in a variety of ways with varying techniques. The techniques that are most often used with these types of instruments include but are not limited to:

  • Shaking
  • Scrapping
  • Tapping (with your fingers or with the help of sticks)
  • Banging
  • Clapping

Fun Fact: Hand percussion instruments are one of the earliest types of instruments in human history.
They are also some of the cheapest and easiest instruments to get started on.

Many hand percussion instruments are also called Auxiliary Percussion.

Auxiliary percussion instruments are with no pitch, used for the purpose of creating rhythms and accents.

Some people dismiss these wonderful instruments. A few may even consider them useless. The truth is, these instruments add significant sounds to many songs that other instruments wouldn’t provide.

If you want to learn how to play some of the most popular hand percussion instruments you are in luck!

10 most popular hand percussion instruments and how to play them


The maracas are one of the most popular hand percussion instruments today, if not the most popular. The first known maracas are believed to originate in the Tainos. The Tainos were the native Indians of Puerto Rico.

Sometimes called shakers, or rumba shaker, maracas are just that; hollowed-out gourds that you can shake.

They come in different sizes, and the volume and tone depend on what size they are and the material they are made of. 

Note: Maracas are one of the easiest hand percussion instruments to play. All you need to do is shake them together in the same rhythm of the song being played. 

This instrument is a great way for beginning musicians to start learning rhythm. In fact, many schools introduce young primary-age children to maracas in music classes.

How To Play: You put one maraca in each hand and make sure it is facing perpendicular to the floor. You then flick your wrist slowly and in quick succession. The strength with which you shake your maracas depends on the rhythm and tone of the song you are playing.

The above video shows you how to hold your maracas. Having a good grip on your maracas is important to playing more complex rhythms and having more control over the sounds that come from the maracas.

Learning how to play some more complex rhythms can be a lot of fun and really enhance any jam session that you might have with your friends or family!


The tambourine is another great hand percussion instrument that originated in the near east. Historically, it was used in religious events, but now it’s used musically by many people around the world.

The Tambourine is a hand percussion instrument that is in the shape of a large ring with small metal disks in slots around the edge.

This is another one of the easiest hand percussion instruments to play. 

How to Play: The way to play this is by shaking or hitting the side of the tambourine with your hands. You can also shake it in the air. The zills on the tambourine will vibrate even more if you hold it down, facing the ground at a 45-degree angle.

Tambourines are so much fun to play. Even though it seems like it is super simple and all youCa do is tap or shake them, there are different techniques you can do to play different styles.

Tambourines can be played in a pop style, in a gospel style, in rock, or others.

Note: Different tambourines will have different sounds. Trying out different types for different styles of music can also give you some amazing versatility for such a simple instrument!


A cabasa is another favorite for hand percussion musicians. This instrument has a thin wooden handle and a cylinder-like body.

Made in the 1950’s it sometimes looks like a fancy rattle. It was made to emulate an ancient instrument in African culture.

How to Play: o play this wonderful instrument, the first thing you need to do is hold the thin handle in your strongest hand and shake it to the rhythm. You then need to put your other hand over the metal beads to tap and thus create more authentic and special sounds.

The cabasa can also be played with a foot pedal. There are foot pedals that are solely dedicated to this instrument.


Claves are an interesting hand percussion instrument. They have been around for many years, originating in Cuba, but they are used all around the world.

Note: Claves are a staple in Latin music. With a rich history in Cuba, it is rumored that the claves were wooden pegs from ships in the harbors that were hollowed out and used as an instrument for bored sailors.  

They are narrow and cylinder shaped. They similarly resemble hardwood sticks. They are hollow and the way the sound comes out of these instruments is through their vibrations.  

How to Play: To play this instrument, you first need to hold one clave in each hand and strike them against each other.  Your hold on them should be firm enough, so they don’t slip, but at the same time, they should be gentle enough to be able to produce sound easily.

You can adjust how hard or gently you strike them against each other according to the beat and song of your choice.


Castanets are a very popular instrument in Spain and Southern Italy culture. Specifically a staple for flamenco dancers.

Castanets are made of hardwood or ivory and look like small hollowed-out discs. They are tethered together by a cord. Castanets come in pairs and usually have a high pitch (female voice) and a lower pitch (male voice).

How to Play: Castanets are easy and fun to play for many musicians. To play the castanets, you should hold them by the handles while one of your fingers on each hand is touching the top of it.

You can play them each at once or both at the same time, depending on how you like it and how loud the song is.

You could also do a castanet roll. If you want to perform a castanet roll, you hold it in the same position as normal, but you should hover your fingers on top of it instead of holding it down. That way, when it goes up and it down, it’ll create more of an echoed-like noise.

Finger Cymbals

Finger cymbals are used by many belly dancers around the world. Each finger cymbal comes with an elastic on each side of each one of the finger cymbals. 

How to Play: The first thing you need to do is put your finger through the elastic and slip it through till it reaches just below your knuckle. The first one goes on your thumb, and the other goes on your middle finger.

You have a set of four finger cymbals, two for each hand. You should have a good grip on both of them on each hand. To make them ring, you need to tap your middle finger and thumb together quickly.


To play bells, all you need to do is pick up two of them and hold them in front of your chest. 

You should have them facing upwards and then ring one of the bells by moving it in a circular motion away from your chest. Then, you snap your wrist quickly, and it’ll make a sound.

The final step is to finish the circle with your arm and then bring back the bell in front of your chest. 

How to Play: This wonderful instrument is played by many around the world and has a significant, distinct noise from many hand percussion instruments.


Contrary to popular belief, the triangle can be very versatile. It is also one of the most popular hand percussion instruments in the world. This instrument can add its own unique flare to many songs.

How to Play: The first thing you need to do when playing the triangle is to hold it with a string that is provided with the instrument. 

🎵 Note: Your hand should not touch the actual triangle. It should be hung by an “O” shaped string and held below eye level and about a foot away from your face. 

You then strike your triangle with your beater. You can strike your triangle anywhere, whether it be on the inside or the inside.

There are many ways and styles to play the triangle, depending on the tone and rhythm of the song. The frequency at which you strike the triangle also depends on how loud or fast the song might be. 


Shakers are another fantastic hand percussion instrument. They come in many different shapes and sizes. 

The good thing about shakers is that they are very diverse. You are not limited to a certain rhythm or flow. You can move it as fast or slow as you like, depending on how loud you want your sound to be.

How to Play: You should hold your shaker in your hand and keep it on your eye level, then move your elbow smoothly backward and forward to create its unique sound.


The guiro is an interesting instrument believed to have originated in Puerto Rico but is played by many people worldwide.

It is made of bamboo and has a hollow center with slats on one side to create a ridge. 

When buying a guiro, it will come along with a beater.

How to Play: To play this unique instrument, you should hold it horizontally against your body and drag your beater across it.

Not only that, but you can also tap the guiro to create another type of sound. You can use a combination of dragging and tapping to create your own rhythm. 

Related Questions

Where can I get a hand percussion instrument Kit?

Depending on your needs or goals with learning hand percussion instruments there are several types and levels of kits or single instruments that you can purchase.

If you are wanting to really up your game as a percussionist and get some high-quality instruments that you can use in jam sessions for years to come then we suggest the links above.

If you are wanting to start with a basic set that is more economical then you can try a kit like this one. This kit is great for smaller kids starting out, but some of the instruments are not going to be very high quality.

What Are the Best Hand Percussion Instruments for Kids?

The best hand percussion instrument for kids are tambourines, shakers, and triangles. All of these instruments are easy enough for children to play and learn. There are many schools across the country that provide lessons for each of these instruments.

Which Instrument Is Played by Shaking?

Some of the instruments that are played by shaking include tambourines, shakers, castanets, cabasa, and many more. These instruments are usually played to a certain rhythm and are very easy to learn.

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