Pandeiro vs. Tambourine

Posted on Oct 10, 2011

Pandeiro, when translated literally, means tambourine. Like the common orchestral tambourine, it is a frame drum with a head on one side and jingles all around the frame. There are, however, some very important differences between the two instruments.

The head of the pandeiro is traditionally made of animal skin, such as goat- or calf-skin, but can also be made using a synthetic head. The pitch of the drum can be changed by using pressure from the player’s finger on the head itself: pressing into the head will raise the pitch, and releasing the head will lower it. The specific tuning of the open drum varies based on the preference of the musician playing the instrument, the size of the drum, and the style of music being played. It is the pitch changes in conjunction with the jingles that create the traditional sound and rhythms of the pandeiro. On the other hand, the orchestral tambourine is typically factory-tuned and does not leave the performer an option to change the tuning himself. The head in this case acts more as a resonator for the sound of the jingles, and the performer does not want to hear the sound of the drum head as much as the sound of the jingles.

The pandeiro’s frame is generally thinner than the tambourine’s frame. Both are made of wood (though some can be made of plastic, synthetic material, or metal) and hold the jingles in place. For both instruments, the frame is what the player holds while playing the instrument. The thinner frame of the pandeiro allows the performer to use his fingers to change the pitch of the drum while playing. On the pandeiro, this is also where the player can tune the head, adjusting the tension of the rods which hold the head in place.

The jingles are what give the pandeiro its crisp sound and create the most easily recognizable difference between the pandeiro and the orchestral tambourine. Tambourines can be found with either one or two rows of jingles, whereas pandeiros always have one row. They are mounted around the frame of the drum, held fast by a nail or a rod. On the pandeiro, the jingles are attached so that the edges of the jingles touch each other, keeping them from vibrating for a long time. The tambourine is set up with the jingles in the opposite direction, giving the tambourine a much louder, fuller sound.

The following video is from, a great resource for anyone interested in this instrument. They have more videos of great pandeiristas, biographies, news and events from around the world, and of course a store from which you can buy instruments, CDs, accessories, and much more.

In this video Mestre Jorginho do Pandeiro is demonstrating a solo in Rio de Janeiro, recorded in 2001. Listen to the crispness of the jingles and the deep tuning of the drum.

And for contrast, this video demonstrates the use and the sound of the orchestral tambourine. This is an excerpt from Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet” performed by the Asturias Symphony Orchestra. Notice the different sound of the jingles, the lack of pitch from the head, and the different playing style.

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