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Box Shaker


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Historical 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.

Fun 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.

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Box Shaker
Box Shaker
Item Number 5404

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