Glossary of samba terminology

Carnaval – Annual celebration throughout Brazil, similar to Mardi Gras in the United States. In Rio de Janeiro, samba school parades occur in the final days of carnaval.

Escola de samba (samba school) – Community organization dedicated to samba music and dance.  Samba schools compete every year during Carnival. 

Desfile (parade) – Competitive parade during Carnival.  Each samba school parade is comprised of many different elements: floats, many people in costume, dancers, singers, and bateria.

Bateria – Ensemble of drums. Up to 300 percussionists play together in the largest samba school baterias.

Samba enredo – (samba story) Song composed and selected by each samba school every year for their carnaval parade. This song is usually 2-4 minutes long and is repeated constantly for the duration of the parade. It is accompanied by the bateria.

Paradinha (break) – Bateria stops main samba groove to play a special phrase, call and response phrase, or different rhythm before returning to main samba groove.  

Instruments of the Bateria (Rio samba style)

Surdo – bass drum (16-24” in diameter, 40-60cm deep) played with mallet.  Usually 3 sizes. Two lowest surdo keep primary pulse.  High surdo plays more syncopated rhythms and phrases. In Rio samba schools, most surdos are fitted with two skin heads, or sometimes a skin head on top and nylon on the bottom.

Surdo 1 (lowest) – a.k.a. surdo de primeiro (first surdo), marcação (marker). 20″-26″ in diameter

Surdo 2 (middle) – a.k.a. surdo de segundo (second surdo), resposta (responder). 18″-22″ in diameter

Surdo 3 (highest) – a.k.a. surdo de terceiro (third surdo), cortador/ corte (cutter). 16″-20″ in diameter

Caixa – snare drum played with two sticks.  Plays all subdivisions and provides the “swing” of samba. 12″ x 20cm aluminum is most common. 14″ caixa are used by some baterias

Caixa em cima – Caixa played “above”. The caixa is held with the arm, often without a strap.

Tarol – Shallow shelled caixa (12″ x 10cm deep) used by some baterias, usually in combination with other standard sized caixas.

Repique/Repinique – tenor drum tuned very high (12” in diameter), played with one stick and one hand (Rio style).  Reinforces the main pulse, plays all subdivisions, and provides swing.  Lead repique plays calls to start bateria and for call-and-response breaks.

Tamborim – small, high pitched drum (6” in diameter) played with wooden or plastic stick. Plays syncopated samba rhythms, special “designs” (elaborate phrases), and all subdivisions.

Chocalho/Ganza – shaker.  Provides swing feel.

Agogo – Set of two metal bells.  Plays syncopated rhythms. Four-bell agogos are used by a few Rio samba schools.

Cuica – Friction drum played by rubbing a small stick attached to the skin head. Often plays the partido alto rhythm.

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