Where to Buy Online
If you need to buy something new, support the international samba community! Kalango and Knock on Wood get their stock from Brazilian suppliers. Knock on Wood has faster and cheaper shipping as it’s in the UK. Second hand things can be found on sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, etc.
Sticks and Beaters
Surdos, basses, and big toms should be played with beaters that have a soft and fluffy head. You can buy these online from around £14 to £30 a pair or make your own – a tutorial can be found here. The fluffy head is important, if you make your own, cover the head with material like old t-shirt scraps or a fuzzy sock as smooth material like duct tape can sound harsh. The softer the head, the softer the sound – high and mid bass/surdos might sound better with slightly harder heads.
Snares and very small toms should be played with regular drumsticks. Relax your arms and wrists whatever you’re playing, this will prevent aches and blisters and can actually make your hits louder. You can wrap the handles of your beaters with grip tape for bike handles to reduce blisters, and even tape on cord lanyards so you don’t lose them.
Repiniques can be played with a wooden stick and hand, two wooden sticks, or two flexible nylon “whippy sticks”. A wooden stick can make a buzz, whippy sticks are louder and sharper. Surdo players can use a whippy stick to play the clicks in Sambasso and Angela Davis – it makes a fantastic clanging sound on a metal drum if you hit the rim and skin at the same time, but doesn’t sound as distinct on a wooden kit bass.
Tams sound best when they’re played with a special forked plastic beater. You can buy these online for around £2 to £10 (very cheap ones break easily). You can also make your own by cutting up a plastic coat hanger – smooth the ends with sandpaper or by rubbing them on a rough pavement so they don’t break the tam skin.
Shakers are an important instrument in their own right. There’s various different kinds of Brazilian samba shakers. Chocalho is the word for a shaker, a rocar is a shaker with metal jingles, and a ganza is a tube shaker with beans or beads inside.
You can make a shaker similar to a rocar by nailing bottle caps on to a stick. Homemade shakers similar to ganzas are cheap and easy to make – put some dried beans or rice into a couple of aluminium tins, and duct tape them together. These also make great outreach tools as you can decorate them with stickers and hand them out to people who want to join in!
Home made ganza-style shakers.
A band with a person playing a rocar.
Loud instruments, especially high-pitched ones, can cause hearing damage. Safety earplugs and ear defenders can be bought in DIY shops, and can be a bit better quality than foam earplugs just meant for sleeping. Ear defenders designed for noisy building work are the most reliable, as they’re manufactured according to strict safety standards. Noise attenuating earplugs designed for music are more expensive, but allow you to hear more clearly than foam ones.
If your kids are coming to a demo, make sure you’ve got child-safe hearing protection for them. And if regular ear defenders are too bulky for you, child-sized ones might fit better!
It’s a good idea to keep a stock of cheap safety earplugs from a DIY shop, these can be handed out to new band members and people who’ll be standing near you at demos.
Drums can be worn on a waist strap or shoulder strap. It’s up to you which one you prefer, but some people find that a waist strap holds the drum in a more stable position. Wear your drum as low as is comfortable, because that will let you have a looser swing and relax your arms instead of sticking your elbows out.
Samba drum straps can be bought for around £10 to £25+ depending on complexity. If you want to make your own strap, use strong materials but make sure you can release it quickly in case you need to take your drum off fast, for example if you fall over. Army surplus webbing works well, and climbing carabiners are strong enough for the biggest drums!
Get creative, lots of padding tricks can work! Shin or knee pads from a sports or DIY shop work great if your drum bumps your legs. Sports gloves can protect your hands from blisters or make it more comfortable to hold sticks or small instruments. Pipe insulation foam can add more padding to an uncomfortable strap. You can also attach something soft to the drum itself, such as foam or even a small pillow!
Here’s a big tom drum decorated with printed posters and with pipe insulation foam for padding on the bottom rim and strap. The other drum is a Brazilian surdo with some stickers and cloth decoration, and the skin is dampened with black duct tape.
XR Rhythms bands are lead by a conductor, director, or “whistler”. Not everyone uses a whistle to conduct their local band, but they’re essential for big band meetups. Samba whistles have three openings and can whistle in three pitches, metal referee-style whistles can be brought cheaply in sports shops and are loud enough to make sure a big band hears you. Wash your whistle regularly in soapy water, and don’t share!