This is the first in a series of articles written by Mark Jones from Psalm Drummers, focusing on the use of percussion in worship. The format for each will be the same and will provide an overview of percussion instruments, techniques to try out, approach to using the percussion instrument in worship, a video clip to illustrate the technique or links to other sites and information on where you can buy them.
The shaker egg is one of the smallest and cheapest pieces of percussion you are likely to find. Its subtle, dynamic and yet if close mic’d its impact can be large.
Most countries will have their own shaker which can be traced throughout their cultural history and usually made from local natural resources such as dried fruit, leaves, nut shells, nuts and pods, beads and even animal toe nails! Perhaps not for everyone but they do carry a particular interesting sharpness and lightness to their sound.
My personal view is that I can’t get enough of them. I have around 100 things to shake acquired from around the world, they’re all very different and I’m sure I’ve only just scratched the surface. My favourite though has to be the salt and pepper shaker – yes, it’s plastic (polyethylene) and mass produced but it’s easy to hold, versatile, easy to play and sounds fantastic – I will be featuring this in next month’s review. I plan to review a few shakers and also how you can best combine some of the sounds.
The most unusual shaker I’ve seen to date is one owned by world percussionist Martin Neil which was picked up on his trip to Hawaii. They’re called Uli Uli’s – they are loud, have frills and everything (see the photo). You can’t play them at church though or you just won’t be taken seriously anymore!
What else do you need to consider? On the whole the shakers made from natural materials will produce an earthy rich sound, more mellow than the mass-produced shakers that are largely made from polymers such as ABS, PP and PE. Being a hard surface they produce a brighter sound when the beads hit the inner shell and sound decay can also be shorter. It’s a similar sound difference you get between playing wooden congas and bongos as opposed to fibre-glass ones.
I’ve been asked on numerous occasions how to get all these sounds from an egg shaker, but the truth is it’s not difficult and with practice it becomes second nature. The great thing about shakers has to be that everyone can play them and get a fairly good sound. You can play standing or sitting and when a number of players play the same part it adds volume and texture. In a way you can play the shaker similar to the way you play a hand drum in that you use open and closed hand shapes to dampen or release the sound, add accents and largely play 16th notes. Over and above that it’s down to a few effects and crazy hand movements.
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