Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Using Percussion to Make Your Tracks Pop.

It’s no secret that throughout several decades of changing genres and styles, one of the instrumental elements that has remained constant is the use of shakers and tambourines. These percussive elements are a great way to increase the energy of your song without getting in the way of the rest of your musical arrangement. Let’s look at a few great ways to start using shakers and tambourines in your tracks.

1) The Simple Subdivision

The most common use of shakers and other percussion is through the addition of a simple, constant rhythm. This is known to music nerds around the world as a subdivision – literally dividing a measure of music into smaller parts. This usage of the shaker and tambourine is heard on countless recordings. It can be as simple as adding a tambourine hit to every quarter-note, as heard in Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. It is much more common, however, to hear faster subdivisions, like sixteenth-notes, used to increase the intensity of the song. Try adding a simple sixteenth-note shaker or tambourine to the chorus of your song, and see how it feels.

2) The “Backbeat”

Another great way to use these percussive instruments is to add single hits on the backbeats (beats “2” and “4”). Try substituting the snare for a tambourine on these beats in a more subdued section of your song, such as a verse or a bridge. This is an excellent way to maintain the forward momentum of the groove without sacrificing sensitivity, and it also gives your arrangement room to dynamically grow in more energetic sections, such as the chorus. See the intro and interlude of “Brown-Eyed Girl”

3) Complimentary Parts

This idea applies to using more than one shaker or tambourine simultaneously. While it is certainly not uncommon to have two or more percussive instruments reinforce the same exact rhythm, there is a lot to be gained by dividing these unique instruments up into different, but complimentary parts. A few examples:

  • A shaker plays eighth-notes while a tambourine plays sixteenths
  • Two shakers play sixteenths. One accents the downbeats (“1” and “3”) while the other accents the backbeats (“2” and “4”)
  • One shaker plays quarters while the other plays on the 4th sixteenth note of every beat. This can produce a sort of “galloping” rhythm

There are an infinite number of examples, so get creative and experiment with your own.

4) Accents

Many times, there is a rhythmic element in the arrangement that is already playing the backbeats and subdivisions such as a hi-hat and snare would. If you are looking to add a little interest to your groove you can try adding a shaker or tambourine on different “accents” in the bar. These type of parts are generally syncopated, meaning they are not on the downbeat and often rhythmically “asymmetrical. The idea here is to compliment the foundational groove that the drum kit is already playing without getting in the way of it. A great example of this usage can be found in Rolling Sones’ “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”.

5) Transitions

Another great way too utilizes shakers and tambourines to compliment the energy of your song is for transitions in and out of different musical sections. Much in the same way a cymbal swell does, a shaker can be played in an expressive crescendo-decrescendo to help heighten the emotion of a particular portion of your song. This works exceptionally well in ballads and more minimalist arrangements where a cymbal swell may distract the listener too much.

Need some high quality shaker and tambourine loops and samples to use in your tracks?

Check out our Complete Shaker & Tambourine!

Cinematic Demo – All material except for drums from Complete Shaker & Tambourine



One Response to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Using Percussion to Make Your Tracks Pop.”

  1. Kevin Zahner

    Good ideas!

    The transitions are crucial, fore sure. The transitions between phrases are also important, especially if the tambourine part, for example, is played in the verse and chorus with different parts in each phrase. A simple shake roll can ease the shift to a new rhythm.


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