Continued from product description on
Folk Instruments' Page Four...
Background: Box shakers are a latter-day version of shakers
and rattles. Shakers and rattles are members of the percussion
musical instruments family and have been around since prerecorded
history. It is speculated that Man's earliest shakers were hollow
gourds with dried seeds inside. Later, African tribes would make
their shakers (or "shakeres") using dried gourds (called
"calabashes") but would string beads or similar objects
around the outside. These shakeres produced a visually decorative
instrument that added meaning to their cultures and social rituals.
Shakers act much in the same manner as a rattle except they
are used to produce rhythmic patterns with an ensemble of other
musical instruments -- particularly drums. Shakers (and rattles)
have been used by primitive tribes around the world. The primitive
tribes that exist today still use shakers.
Native Americans used shakers (or rattles) in practically
all their important ceremonies, along with drums, rasps, bells
(usually attached to clothing), and clap sticks. Their rattles
were made from many types of natural materials. The two most
common materials were gourds and animal bones. As with shakers
found in other parts of the world, gourds were carefully dried,
prepared, and decorated according to tribal custom(s) and personal
preferences. Bone rattles were often made from a section of horn
that was cut to a desired size. Sometimes an entire horn was
used with only a hole made to insert a stick into to form a handle.
Dried corn, fruit pits, seeds, small nuts, pebbles, and other
types of "beads" were placed inside Native American
shakers and rattles.
Some Native American tribes used turtle shells because they
were readily available. Objects such as turtle bones and cherry
pits were put inside the hollow shell. This type of shaker was
usually used to honor the turtle for its role in the creation
of "Turtle Island," the name given by eastern woodland
tribes for North America.
Native Hawaiians also used shakers in their storytelling dance
form called the "hula." Hulas were once an important
method for preserving the oral history and religion of these
Polynesians. As with Native Americans, Hawaiians used natural
materials to make their shakers. They used small gourds that
had a handle and were filled with seeds. Colorful feathers were
often used to decorate their shakers.
The origins of the gourd shaker is most likely Africa, since
it is this continent that is "the cradle of man." In
Africa, hollow gourds are covered with a loose net and strung
with hundreds of "Job's Tears." Job's Tears are the
seeds produced by a tall, tropical grass called "coix lacryma-jobi."
These seeds are naturally polished and have a hole through them!
They were a time-efficient choice to use for African shakers.
When slave traders brought Africans (usually from West Africa)
to the Americas, new meanings and uses for shakers were introduced.
Over time, African shakers would have an influence on American
and Caribbean music. While the ways of making shakers were similar
to those made by Native Americans, the rhythmic patterns were
distinctly different. This is because African music is rhythmic
rather than tonal.
Over the centuries, percussion instruments such as the shaker
have led to the development of new types of music, including
Cuban, Jazz, and Blues. Shakers are a hallmark of marimba ensembles
and other Latin music groups. By the way, the maraca is a descendant
of the primitive shaker.
With the introduction of manmade materials, shakers have since
been made from tin cans, small glass containers (such as salt
and pepper shakers), wooden or paper boxes and, since the mid-20th
century, even plastic bottles. Today, many grade-school students
learn to make their own shakers and are taught rhythmic music
patterns with them.
Fact: You can make your own shaker by using a plastic
Easter egg, empty plastic tube with a lid, paper or plastic bag,
dried gourd, tennis ball (or other hollow ball). Fill them with
dry rice, uncooked noodles or beans, nuts or hard seeds, pebbles,
sand or salt, or even bottle caps! Different fillers will produced
different sounds. (Some will also last longer than others and
be less messy to use.) For the handle, a stick, pencil or short
1/2" dowel will do nicely. Once you have chosen your materials,
cut a hole in the container (if necessary), put in your filler,
insert the handle, and glue or tape the two pieces together.
For those who want to be very creative, papier-mâché
can be used to make a shaker of any size or shape. Once you have
made your shaker, you can decorate or paint it any way you like.