How to make maraca?

“Long-time gourders themselves, with excellent earlier books already to their credit on gourd growing and gourd craft… The authors researched gourd instruments from around the world… they then set about producing dozens of the most practical, effective and home-buildable gourd instrument types… These are described in the book, with step-by-step construction photographs and descriptions. Most of the instruments are simple to make, requiring a minimum of special tools or materials. Photographs of and background information on many more beautiful gourd instruments… further enrich the book.” – Bart Hopkin, Experimental Musical Instruments, Journal of EMI
“There is an amazing wealth of information here, covering not only how-to’s and history, but also extending into the social sciences and even science. Actual instructions… are included… a book that patient crafters will appreciate.” – Booklist, February, 2000
“I was amazed at the variety of gourd instruments the world has produced, and over 60 are pictured or described in a clear, straightforward … history alone makes the book worth the price… the raison d’être of the book is the detailed directions with step-by-step pictures for making 20 instruments from gourds…this is how-to; written and illustrated at its best. – The Gourd, the Journal of the American Gourd Society
“Historically, ethnic groups in many countries have used a great number of musical instruments made from gourds. In North America these instruments are used mainly by percussionists. Most of the step-by-step projects in this book by gourd artists Summit and Widess (The Complete Book of Gourd Craft) are for percussion or stringed instruments such as the Latin American guiro (gourd scraper) or the spike fiddle. There are also a few from the wind family, such as the fipple flute. These are legitimate musical instruments made from traditional materials, and they are fully playable as well as being beautifully crafted. Highly recommended for general crafts as well as ethnomusicology collections.” – Library Journal, February, 2000
“Well written.” – Jim Story, gourd grower
“I highly recommend The Complete Book of Gourd Craft.” – Organic Gardening Magazine
“Delightful to read.” – Jim Linthicum, AGS President
“A treat for the eyes.” – Basketry Express
“The projects, presented by experienced gourd crafters, are artistic and imaginative and cover all techniques of dealing with gourds.” – Library Journal
“A written detail of arts which have over the centuries been passed along by only word of mouth.” – Bay Area Antiques
“This book gives wonderful history and inspiration to anyone interested in crafting musical instruments from gourds.” – a customer

“The history lesson on each type of instrument is wonderful for both adults and children. The photos of both ancient and new instruments are a pleasure to look at and an inspiration to get going on a project while the instructions for making the instruments are basic enough to get started and then let your imagination run wild. If you need more help with basic gourd craft, just refer to “The Complete Book of Gourd Craft” Happy Gourding!” – a customer

“For the most part, this is a nice book for a person who wants to make a good instrument, but does not have a woodworking shop at their disposal, though having a small electric saw does help, because there are some projects where wood must be cut, drilled, etc. The only thing I didn’t really like about the book was the fact that there were some really cool instruments in there that there were no instructions for. On a more positive note, the book provided a lot of interesting information about how the various types of instrument groups make their sound, along with how they are played, and variations on how to make them. The book also told of the instruments’ origins, which was nice to know. I am currently building a Kenyan lyre, called a nyatiti, which was pictured in the book on page 77. This book has really inspired me to begin creating my own musical instruments, which I think all serious musicians should do. I believe a musical instrument is almost like an extension of the essense of the musician who plays it, and what better way is there to display their own personality?” – Andria Redlin

“This book is amazing. I’ve already made the kazoos. There’s a few that I’d like a bit more detail in the instructions, but overall it’s an interesting and useful book about Gourd Musical Instruments.” – P. Kamler, “PLK Gourds”, St. Louis, Missouri

“It was interesting from a historical folk instrument aspect but was not functional for helping one learn to create gourd instruments.” – a customer
“This book gives wonderful history and inspiration to anyone interested in crafting musical instruments from gourds.” – a customer

“This review is from: Making Gourd Musical Instruments: Over 60 String, Wind & Percussion Instruments & How to Play Them (Hardcover)
A fantastic companion to “The Complete Book of Gourd Craft” (by the same authors). The history lesson on each type of instrument is wonderful for both adults and children. The photos of both ancient and new instruments are a pleasure to look at and an inspiration to get going on a project while the instructions for making the instruments are basic enough to get started and then let your imagination run wild. If you need more help with basic gourd craft, just refer to “The Complete Book of Gourd Craft” Happy Gourding!” – a customer

Because I’ve received so many questions about drying gourds and exactly what to do with them that I need to make a few statements up front.
There are a number of different methods to dry gourds and the particular method anyone uses will be up to them. If you want to pick your gourds early and place them on pallets, then fine, they will dry. However; there is more chance of your gourds rotting when you do this. If the gourds are picked before maturing, then they are much more susceptible to rot. If you want to leave your gourds right in the field attached to the vines, then fine, they will dry, just as shown above. And no, you don’t have to go out and put anything under them to protect them from the damp ground. Gourds have been drying by themselves for eons and have been doing just fine. In fact, I believe gourds will cure faster if left right on the vine until dry.

However, here are a few points to remember.
Gourds need air to properly dry. Lots of air. So if you pick your gourds early, DON’T put them some place where they will not get good air flow, like in a cellar or a small room.
Gourds will dry out in the weather just fine. No, it won’t hurt them to get wet from rain, nor will it hurt them to freeze. Yes, a hard freeze will kill the vines and leaves, but mature gourds will do just fine. Commercial growers don’t pick their gourds from the fields until they are fully dry. Gourds are dry when they are very light in weight and the seeds rattle when they are shaken. Gourds that are left on the vine to dry, harden off much better and seem to be of much higher quality than gourds that have been picked while still green.
You’re only ruining your gourd, and in most cases where this is done, the gourds will soon rot. That outer skin is the protective covering for your gourds and if you remove it, then you are only inviting trouble into your gourds. This also means, don’t cut ANY large holes and scrape out the insides. In most cases, the gourd will soon cave in and collapse. If a gourd is not dried, then nothing should be done to it until it is.
I have heard where some people cut the holes in gourds and then remove the insides while the gourd is still green. This IS NOT a good thing to do. Yes, the gourd may dry faster, but there is a difference in drying and curing. A cured gourd will last many times longer than a ‘speed dried’ gourd.
“But the skin of a gourd is very hard, how will the water get out?”
The stem of a gourd is very porous and this is where much of the water inside the gourd will escape. If you cut your gourds off the vines, leave approximately 2 inches of stem intact. Pruning sheers or a very sharp knife should be used to cut gourds from the vine. NEVER just twist the stem to break it. This will allow infection into a green gourd and the stem will become useless for future use. The cut should be clean to allow the water to escape. Also, although we perceive the outside of a gourd to be hard, it is in reality, very porous and a good amount of the water will escape through the skin also.
“But I need to speed up the drying of my gourds because I need them now?”
Sorry, can’t be done. Yes, you can put a few near a fireplace and they will ‘dry’ a little faster, but it really isn’t worth it with a large quantity, and do you really want a bunch of gourds in your house where people are living… I don’t think so. The best thing to do is to let nature take its course. If you need gourds ‘NOW’, then I suggest buying them from There are some things in nature that just can’t be hurried.
“What do you do to get your gourds?”
Simple, I plant my gourds in the spring and don’t even think about picking them until everything around them is ‘dead’. As shown in the opening picture of this page, all that can be seen is brown, drying gourds standing out everywhere in the field. At the end of the growing season, I pick a few of them up and shake them to make sure the seeds rattle. Then I simply walk around with a pair of pruning shears and clip them from the vines and load them into my truck. Yes, during the growing cycle I’ll occasionally take a walk around the patch to make sure things are going good and look for trouble, stand them up so that they grow the way I want them to and because I want my gourds to be nice and big for my martins, I’ll sometimes even take my pruning shears and clip a few useless vines and cull the ones I don’t think will make good gourds. But for the most part, that’s about as close as I get to them until they are fully dry.
Gourds do not have to be coddled, pampered, cared for, cultivated, pruned or any of the normal gardening things we humans like to do for our garden plants. A little fertilizer, heavy in potash, is good for them, but you don’t need to add anything that will instigate green growth. This is something you’ll quickly find out with your first attempt at growing gourds. Think of gourds as a different kind of pumpkin, treat them the same and all will be just fine. When they are ripe, then you can do what you like with them, but until they are completely dry, they should be left alone.
Now, with that said, the following statements on drying gourds, although intended for birdhouse gourds, will work for just about any type of gourd. If you want to know more, then please read on…
——————————————————————————– Although there are many different kinds of gourds, for our purposes, there are basically two different ‘types’. One type is very fleshy (Lagenaria family). If it is necessary to pick these early, then they need to be ‘dried’ in a cool, dry place for several weeks, even months. These types are about 90% water at harvest time, hence the long drying period. This type is generally known as ‘birdhouse gourds’. However, if not necessary, they should not be picked until fully dry in the field. A much better quality gourd will result.
Others (Cucurbita family), will have a lower water content and will fully cure in just a few weeks. If you’re not sure of the type of gourd you have, don’t worry, just put them up and leave them alone. Every couple of weeks, check on them. They will be fully ‘cured’ when the outside skin becomes very hard and the gourd is very light and the seeds rattle when you shake it.
Bird house gourds should be allowed to grow as large as they will get, and should not be picked before they are about 9 or 10 inches in diameter. (I like mine to be between 10 and 12 inches. This size has proven to be the most popular with purple martins). It will be your decision as to which ones to use for martin gourds. I like to leave mine on the vine until fully dry, but if you just have to cut yours early, they can then be ‘cut’ from the vine, leaving as much of the stem as possible and then set aside in a sheltered place to dry.
Although this next step is not necessary, it will give you better results from drying. Before setting green gourds aside to dry, they can be washed to remove caked on soil and other garden debris. Gourds can be dipped in a weak bleach solution of one or two cups chlorine bleach to a 5 gallon bucket of water to sterilize the surface and sometimes help prevent rotting. The use of a soft bristled brush will help aide in the removal of the debris and not harm the soft skin of the ‘green’ gourd. At this time, their skin is very soft and easily damaged, therefore, they should be handled with some care. A good spraying with a hose will also do them some good.
The place you select to put your gourds for drying should have a fairly good amount of air flow. Good air flow is probably the most important thing in drying gourds. They can simply be set on some cardboard and then left to dry. Be careful not to let them touch each other. It is not necessary to shelter them in a room of any kind. They will do just fine out side.

One Note:
Don’t put them in a place where humans will have to frequent often. Curing gourds and humans just don’t go together. The odor can be rather offensive during the drying cycle. That’s why they should be put where the air or wind can get to them. Don’t put them in a cellar or a back room in the house, or soon, anyone coming to visit will know you’re drying gourds and I promise, it will be some time before that smell is gotten out of the house. This is also unhealthy for humans and a good reason to leave them outside.
Many of the gourds will acquire a mold on the outside of their skins. This is normal. You don’t have to wipe the mold off. It will simply dry in place, leaving a pretty neat pattern in its wake, and it doesn’t seem to hurt the gourd any.
Regardless of how much care you take, some of the gourds will rot. No reason why, that’s just nature. Some of them will get infected and those gourds will simply not make it. They should be removed and discarded. You can tell this when the gourds shows an indentation in its skin. Just about everyone has seen a pumpkin when it’s rotting. A gourd, being of the same family, will show the same signs and therefore, you can recognize the symptoms. Just poke your finger into the indented area and, if it feels very soft and mushy and pushes in easily, the gourd is of no value and should be discarded.
——————————————————————————- Some tips
My gourds are very green and heavy. How long will it take them to dry?
If they are from the Lagenaria family, they will take a long time to dry. These gourds are probably 90% water if they are harvested early and even under ideal conditions, it could take them 3 – 6 months to fully dry. Patience is a must. Check them about once a week to look for rotting gourds and if any are found, discard them. They will gradually become lighter and lighter. They will be fully dry when extremely light weight and the seeds inside rattle when the gourd is shaken.
I live in the northern part of the country and don’t have a warm place to put my gourds while they are drying. How will I protect them from freezing?
Don’t try! If your gourds are mature, then it won’t hurt them at all to freeze. In fact, some say it’s even better if they freeze every now and then during drying. All it does is slow down the drying process. Some northern growers are even known to leave them in the field covered in snow.
One Note here:
If gourds are still in the growing stage and have not had a chance to mature and harden off at all, then there is a good chance that they could be damaged by freezing. However, since they weren’t starting to mature, then there is a good chance that they would have rotted anyway.
Some of my gourds have mold all over them. I wipe it off, but it still comes back. What’s wrong?
Nothing. Curing gourds quite often get a mold on the outside of their skins. It’s just a part of the drying process and shows that some of the moisture is coming out through the skin. No need to try and wipe it off, it will just return. It doesn’t harm the gourd anyway. In fact, the recessing mold seems to leave some rather intricate patterns on the skin of the gourd, and from what I can tell, it doesn’t seem to hurt them at all. Below is a gourd that has mold on it. When dry, this mold simply melds into the gourd.

One of my gourds has a sinking spot on it. It feels very soft and spongy when I push on it. What’s wrong?
The gourd is rotting and there is nothing you can do for it. Simply throw it out on the mulch pile before it infects any of the other gourds. Often when gourds are harvested early, they don’t have a chance to receive any hardening agent from the vine. These gourds won’t have any natural ability to counteract bacteria and thus, may rot. That is one reason that gourds should be left right on the vine until fully dry. Below is a gourd that has a rotting spot on it. Notice how the gourd side caves in where the gourd is rotting.

I decided to punch some small holes in the bottom of my gourds and hang them to dry. Now, there is a lot of fluid dripping from the bottom of them. What’s going on here?
Remember, birdhouse gourds (Lagenaria) are about 90% water when harvested green. For the first couple of days after you punch holes in them, there is going to be a very large amount of this fluid that will drain out of them. It can create quite a mess if they are hung inside. It will stop after the initial water has drained out. That’s why, if you are going to dry your gourds this way, that it be done outside where the dripping won’t hurt anything.
The only place I have to dry my gourds is in the basement of my home. Will it hurt to put them down there?
If you only have a few, say 5 or 10, you might be able to hang them from the joists, and they may do just fine. But, if you have a large amount, I would be wary of putting them in the basement.
A couple of reasons.
One, the ventilation in a basement is not very good, and in order for gourds to dry properly, they need good ventilation.
Two, a large amount of drying gourds will create a rather unpleasant odor, and I don’t think you would want that odor in your house. If you feel they have to be dried inside, then I would find a friend with an open barn somewhere.
Something else you could do. If you have the space somewhere outside, place a shipping pallet out in the open. Now place your gourds on this pallet. This way, they will get full sunlight and plenty of air circulation. If it rains, and you feel you must, you can simply cover them with a plastic sheet or tarpaulin of some sort. When the rain is gone, uncover them. And if you forget, not to worry, it’s not going to hurt them to get wet. In fact, the rain often helps wash off a lot of the mud and debris from the garden.
And don’t put them on a pallet, cover them up and leave them covered. All this will do is speed up the rotting process and soon all you’ll have is a pile of rotting gourds. Drying gourds need ventilation to dry properly. And remember, cold doesn’t bother them either. Temperature is not a factor in the drying process of mature gourds. Moving air is.

My wife is trying to dry gourds in our garage in Wisconsin and several have started to rot. Is there any way to prevent this?
A couple of things here:
One, No matter how hard you try and prevent it, some gourds will always rot. It’s just nature. This number depends on the drying conditions and is usually around 5% or 10%, or about 1 in 10-20. These should be discarded immediately before they infect any of the others. If that number seems about right, them leave them alone where they are.

Two, If you have more than that percentage, then they just aren’t getting enough air and you have to get them more ventilation. If you don’t have any open windows available, then you’ve got to move them outside. If available and you feel it necessary, put them under an overhanging roof somewhere out in the open where wind can get to them. If this is not available, put them on an old shipping pallet (as shown above) out in the open. They really need a lot of moving air. This is probably the one major factor for drying gourds. Rain doesn’t bother them, cold doesn’t bother them, but stale air does.
Three, Although not always, some gourds will obtain a mold on the outsides. Don’t mistake this for rot. It is a natural part of the curing process. Push on the gourd. If it is solid, then the gourd is only molding. If it is soft and punky and ‘caving in’, then it is rotting. The gourd is beyond any help and you need to discard it.
You’ve mentioned the term ‘harden off’. What is meant by that?
As a gourd nears the end of it’s growing season and ‘matures’, the plant secretes an enzyme that stops growth and begins the natural drying cycle of the gourd. The materials and membranes inside shrink drastically during the drying process and become the outer wall of the gourd. This is known as hardening off. The outer skin solidifies and becomes very hard. Gourds that are ‘cured’ on the vine are almost always much better quality than gourds that are cut from the vine early. Yes, gourds cut early will dry, but the final product is going to be a little lower quality than if left to their own accord.

Make some noise!

Get summer started on Tues, May 29 from 10am-noon in the Atrium when we learn the science behind how different musical instruments make sound. Everyone will take home a tiny musical instrument. You can use the instrument to make some noise and take an information sheet about your instrument to teach others about the science of sound as you stay curious about music all summer long.

Don’t miss Sounds of Space, Science of Pancakes, Science is a Real Sing-a-long, Readapalooza, Stories & Crafts, Borrow It Book Fair, Movie on the Lawn, NOTO Story Slam and ALL of the events this summer. Check out Curiosity Central and make plans to attend!

Learn the science of sound!

Sound is a type of energy made by vibrations. When any object vibrates, it causes movement in nearby air particles. These particles bump into the particles close to them, which makes them vibrate too, causing them to bump into more air particles. This movement, called sound waves, keeps going until they run out of energy. If your ear is within range of the vibrations, you hear the sound.

View complete list

  • Sound Science: Where Did That Noise Come From?: An audible activity from Scientific American
  • Whistle – How does a a whistle produce sound?
  • Science Kids at Home: What is Sound?
  • The Kazoo – Its “physics”, history, and importance for modern music
  • KCPT: Sound Vibrations
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: Percussion instrument

If you want to learn more about the science of sound hands-on with instruments you may have at home, use the descriptions of the instruments distributed at the Science of Sound program and how they produce sound as a starting point.


Shake it up! Maracas are a type of percussion instruments called idiophones.
When you shake the maraca handle, tiny balls inside the egg-shaped end of the maraca bounce against each other and hit the walls of the maraca. The materials of the instrument vibrate to make sound.


Hmmmmm! A kazoo is a type of musical instrument called a singing membranophone.
When you hum into a kazoo, the humming makes a wax paper membrane vibrate to make sound.


A flute is a type of woodwind instrument.
When you blow into a flute, sound is made from the flow of air across the openings. Cover holes to change the pitch of the sound.

Boom sticks

Boom sticks are a type of percussion instruments called idiophones.
When you hit the two boom sticks together, the materials of the instrument vibrate to make sound. As concussion instruments, they create sound when two similar sticks are struck together.

Party blowers

Whoo! A party blower is a type of musical instrument called a horn.
When you blow into the plastic mouthpiece, the air is forced into the tube and out through the end of the sound chamber, which causes the air to vibrate. The force of the air also inflates and unrolls the paper tube, and the vibrating paper makes a second sound.


Preet! A whistle is a type of wind instrument
When you blow into a whistle air enters the whistle at one end. As the air reaches the other, closed end, all the air molecules “pile up” on top of each other and cause a high-pressure region. The vibrating air escapes out the little hole at the top making noise. The frequency of the sound waves are dependent on the length of the whistle. The longer the whistle, the lower the pitch will be.

Sound Hose or Whirly Tubes

A Sound Hose produces sound when you grab the larger end of the sound hose and – only if it’s safe to do so – quickly whirl the hose in circles over your head.
As you twirl the tube, air molecules are pulled from the end in your hand up and out of the moving end. The difference in speed between the moving end of the tube and the stationary, hand-held end creates a difference in air pressure that pulls air through the tube. The air’s speed changes with the speed of the spin. Give it a whirl!


Shake it up! Rattles are percussion instruments.
The jingles hang loosely on the wire pin and jangle against each other, making a high-pitched rattling sound that carries well. When you shake the rattle, the metal discs bang against each other and the materials of the instrument vibrate to make sound.

Nose Whistles

Yes, you can make music with your nose. A nose whistle is a type of wind instrument
Press the nose flute firmly against your nose and mouth. The big part goes over your mouth, and the small part goes against your nose. Hold your mouth open. Blow air only through your nostrils, making sure that no air leaks form the edges of the nose flute. The sound is made as the air blows across your open mouth, and by adjusting the size and shape of your open mouth, you can create various pitches.

Hand clappers

Shake it up! Hand clappers are percussion instruments.
When you shake the plastic hands back and forth, the hands “clap” against each other and the materials vibrate to make sound.

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Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book discussion leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, HUSH podcaster, and frequent library customer. She loves her kids, being a librarian, living in Topeka, and helping people form connections and community. She reads a new book every few days, but recently enjoyed the audiobook of “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.” by Jeff Tweedy, which a library customer recommended to her.

Making Maracas


  • empty, clean soda or water bottles (about 20 ounces), with a screw-on cap (each child will need two)

Key Science Concepts

  • An action has to take place in order for a sound to occur.
  • Different objects make different sounds.
  • Sounds vary by volume (loud or soft) and pitch (high or low).
  • A sound becomes louder when the force of the action that is creating the sound is increased and softer, or quieter, when the force is decreased.


Use and repeat descriptive words such as fast, slow, loud, soft, quiet, rattle, as well as words related to science, such as compare, same, different, test.


Tell children that today they are going to make an instrument called the maraca, which comes from South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Maracas are rattles played by shaking them. People usually play two maracas at the same time. Ask children if they’ve ever seen or heard them before. Ask if this reminds of them of an activity they did last week (Shake and Listen).

  1. Hand each child two empty bottles and tell them that they will make two maracas by filling the bottles with some of the small objects on the table. Give them a challenge: Can you make two maracas that sound very different from each other? Ask: What are some ways you can make the maracas sound different?
  2. Allow children to choose which small objects the want to fill their maracas with. Encourage them to test the sound as they work, adding or subtracting objects until they achieve a sound they like. When they’re done, have them screw on the cap and play their maracas.


If there’s time, they can decorate their instruments by drawing on construction paper and fastening their drawings around the bottles, using tape.

Reflect and Share

Have each child demonstrate their two maracas for the group, describing the differences in the way they sound. Record the differences between maraca #1 and maraca #2 on chart paper. Ask:

  • How did you go about making one sound different than the other? How would you describe the differences between the two? Which one do you like the best? What do you like about the sound?
  • If you added more than one type of object to your maracas, what do you hear? Can you hear the sounds of the different objects, or do they blend together and are hard to tell apart?
  • Let children experiment with getting lots of different sounds from their maracas by adjusting the way they move them. Can they make soft, sleepy sounds? Scary, rattle-y sounds? Sudden jumpy sounds?

Then put on the music you played during Freeze Dance and have everyone shake their maracas to the beat. Make an audio recording of the music.

A shekere (or sekere) is a beautiful and unique instrument originating in West Africa that appears in various shapes, sizes and forms throughout the continent of Africa. Made from a simple dried gourd with a beaded “skirt”, shekeres are a great addition to any environment where children are learning about music or world cultures.

If you’re finding it hard to locate or purchase a shekere for your classroom, home or homeschool, you might consider making your own. Other then the dried gourd, the additional materials are easy to find and the beading process is “easy to moderate” for beginning crafters. In fact, since the stringing and beading is the part of the process that generates the most questions and confusion, we’ve partnered with Carrie P. from a wonderful blog called Crafty Moms Share to develop a step-by-step tutorial for making your own dried gourd shekere. (Complete gourd tutorial and other related shekere posts can be found at the links below).

Beads, Seeds, Nuts or Seashells

Along with beads, almost any small, roundish, rattling object can be used as the noise-makers on a shekere. If you take a close look at the shekeres pictured above, you’ll notice beads as well as seeds woven into the netting. In Africa, some shekeres also use seashells or hard seeds or nuts with holes drilled though them as part of their unique design.

Add Some String

The skirt of a shekere is created from a type of string or twine that is durable and will not break or stretch. Since cotton twine will stretch, nylon or hemp is a better choice for creating a working shekere. Because the top circle or collar of the netting holds all the other strings in place, some craftspeople pick a thicker string for this or braid the twine for a more durable start to the project.

And Some Knots!

With your collar in place around the gourds neck, you are ready to add the strings.

Cut a number of strings (enough to fit around the gourd) approximately 30 inches long. Fold each string in half and make a slip knot with it around the collar. To make a slip knot, put the folded string under the collar with the fold on top and then bring the ends through the loop of the fold and collar and tighten.

Once you have all the strings you desire in place you will tie a loop knot to secure each location. A loop knot is where you make a “6” with your strings and bring the end through the loop of it. This is the type of knot we will be using for the rest of the project.

Add The Beads

Here are Carrie’s great suggestions for getting the hang of adding beads to the skirt:

Adding the beads is where you creativity really comes into play.

You can do many different things with the beads. Some put a bead on each string, others put two strings through a bead. Some put a single bead between knots and others go up to three beads before knotting. The important thing is to work with a string from two different knots.

Once you have your bead(s) in place, tie a loose loop knot. I re-started many of mine because I did not like how the first round looked and found they lay better with looser knots. Do an entire round before starting the next.

Once you have one round complete, start the next. Stay consistent with however you’ve started with beads and knots, but again you want to use strings from different knots. This will bring the beads in the first round closer together. Continue doing a round at a time until you have the skirt you want.

Finish The Instrument!

Here are Carrie’s two descriptions for two methods of finishing the skirt and completing the shekere:

Method 1: The first is to have another loop similar to the collar (braided if you used braided) and the same size. Then you tie your ends to the loop so it hangs loosely below the gourd.

Method 2: If your gourd is small you can take an 8-inch string and tie the ends together. This is easier to do with another person holding your shekere for you to tie them together.

Making Music!

If you take a look at the resources below you’ll find many wonderful ways to check out the sound of traditional shekeres or explore music with the ones you’ve created.


Complete Tutorials

Links and Resources

Hear A Shekere

Color a Shekere Online

Carries Crafty Moms Share Blog‎ – Beaded Sekeres from Master Craftswoman, Sara Fabunmi

Make a Recycled Shekere (From A Milk Jug)



One of the most recognizable of the percussion instruments is the maracas, a pair of rattles made from gourds. Maracas are essential to Latin and South American orchestras and bands, and other musical forms that have adopted the rhythm of the maracas.

Maracas are used as musical instruments, and they are usually oval or egg-shaped. The family of musical instruments is divided into groups depending on how sound is produced. Solid or sealed objects that have full, distinctive sounds are classified as “idiophones.” Maracas are part of a further subgroup of instruments that are shaken rather than struck. Idiophones that are struck include cymbals, castanets, and the xylophone.

The most universal form of construction of maracas uses dried gourds with beads, beans, or small stones inside. A handle is attached to each gourd, and the handle not only can be used for shaking but also seals in the noisemakers. The manufacturing process has evolved from one using only natural materials including gourds or other plant pods, wood, and leather to using plastic and fiber. It also features more sophisticated machinery to fashion wood handles.


Percussion instruments, especially drums, existed as long ago as the Stone Age. Maracas may have originated among several ancient civilizations at almost the same time. African tribes are known to have played drums and a wide variety of rattles and similar instruments from the traditions that have been carried down through the ages. South Pacific Islanders also developed a wide range of rattles by using plants that produced gourd-like seed pods; rattles without handles were even made from coconuts that had been dried out. In South America, maracas linked music and magic because witch doctors used maracas as symbols of supernatural beings; the gourds represented the heads of the spirits, and the witch doctor shook the gourds to summon them.

Just as maracas are essential to today’s Latin and South American ensembles, the history of the maracas is best traced through the artwork of pre-Columbian Indians, especially the tribes in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Paraguay. The word maraca is believed to have been given to the instrument by the Araucanian people of central Chile. It is used for all gourd rattles although some also have more specific names. In the region of West Africa along the Atlantic Ocean called Guinea, native people tell the legend of a goddess making a maraca by sealing white pebbles in a calabash, a hard gourd that is also shaped into cooking utensils. Natives of the Congo in Africa and the Hopi Indians in America share the tradition of using turtle shells and baskets for rattles; when settlers brought European goods to America, native Americans collected empty shell cartridges, metal spice boxes, and cans to make rattles.

Players of maracas in the countries and regions in South America favor gourds of different varieties as well as unique playing customs. The “typical” maracas are played in Colombia, but musical ensembles in the Andes Mountains play smaller maracas called gapachos because they are filled with seeds from the gapacho plant. In Colombia’s Llanos region, instrumentalists play clavellinas, which are similar to gapachos. In Paraguay, the porrongo gourd is used to make maracas, but only the men play them. Venezuelan ensembles use the maracas to set basic rhythms, but only the singers in the groups play them.

Some maracas relatives have beads on the outside. The gourd is larger than those typical of the maracas; the calabash is most common. The end is cut off but farther from the round body of the gourd, so the neck can be used as a handle. Strings of the same length are cut and tied to a center circle of string. Beads are strung along the lengths and tied again to a circle around the neck. Shaking this instrument rattles the loose strings and beads against the outside of the hollow gourd.

In modern times, many rhythm and percussion bands playing all styles of music use maracas. Composers have even written parts for them in classical pieces; for example, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, written in 1935, calls for maracas in the fiery portions of this ballet. Maracas are even pounded on the heads of drums for interesting effects in classical music. Leonard Bernstein wrote the Jeremiah Symphony in 1942 and scored music for maracas used as drumsticks.

Raw Materials

Materials for the three major parts of the maracas are needed for manufacture. The hollow oval top is called the bell. It can be made of almost any kind of gourd or seedpod that can be dried or hollowed out. Traditional construction also uses leather that is cut into two parts, shaped to make the bell, and stitched along the seams. Plastic or fiber can be molded into round or oval shapes for the bells. Plastic maracas with small, round bells made in bright colors are toys and teaching tools for children and are marketed under catchy names.

The pellets that make the sound when the maracas are shaken are traditionally the dried seeds from inside the gourd. Other seeds, beans, beads, metal pellets, and even shells and buttons can be used inside maracas. Changing the type of material and the number of beans inside will change the sound.

The handle is made of wood or plastic. Wood is the traditional material and was carved or whittled to fit the opening in the gourd and to make an attractive shape and one that was comfortable to hold and shake. Today, wood is still used, but it is shaped with a lathe to make a uniform, attractive handle. Makers of maracas prefer Caribbean wood, mostly for its beauty; but soft to ultra hard wood is chosen depending on the size, shape, and appearance of the maracas.

Lesser materials include heavy thread that is used to stitch the halves of leather maracas together, and thick string that is wound around the top of the handle and the base of the gourd, then glued to hold them together. Cloth bindings (much like hem tape) can also be wrapped around the join of the handle and gourd.


The design of maracas has assumed a traditional shape even though there are many variations within the family of rattles. Maracas have an oval top or bell in a hollow, outer shell and contains bean-sized objects that rattle against the shell when the instrument is shaken. To shake the maracas, a handle is attached.

Within this basic description, the materials used to make the bell, beans, and handle can vary in type of material, shape, and size. Traditional maracas are gourds or stitched leather with wood handles. However, modern technology has produced hard fibers and plastics for the bell as well as plastic noisemakers. Machinery like lathes can be used to shape handles that precisely fit the bell. Machines stitch the parts of the bell when they are made of leather. Modern glues are also a technical improvement that assures the long-lasting fit of bell, handles, and binding. Manufacturers use climate-controlled rooms to dry the gourds carefully. If they are dried too quickly, the outer skins will shrink and shrivel.

The designs on the outsides of the bells are also varied and made of different materials. Most gourds are painted on the outsides with bright colors from their native homes or with colors suited to the instrumental group or musical style. Red, yellow, and green are a vibrant, popular color combination, but images in dark brown on the yellow show instruments, native peoples, or beaches and trees or other scenes. Hawaiian dancers play gourds that have feathers suspended from the binding around the handle, and the feathers sway with the dancers.

The Manufacturing

  1. Manufacturers of percussion instruments typically make many varieties of instruments ranging from kettledrums (called tympani) to xylophones and maracas. They purchase natural materials from a suppliers but tool their own machines to their standards for cutting and shaping these materials. To produce maracas made of gourds, they buy gourds from a local supplier, often a farmer. The manufacturers cut off the narrow end of each gourd with a thin-bladed band saw. Knives or spoons with long handles and narrow bowls are used to scrap the membranes and seeds out of the gourd. The membranes are disposed, but the seeds are washed and saved.
  2. After the insides of the gourds are cleaned, the gourds and their seeds are dried in a climate-controlled room. For some styles and if the necks of the gourds are long enough, the necks are also dried and kept with the gourds they came from. Gourds are usually dried for months (and sometimes as much as a year) in these controlled conditions so that the interior will dry completely and the exterior will not wrinkle.
  3. If the necks of the gourds are not used, wooden handles are cut to appropriate lengths and general shapes. By using a lathe, the handle can be shaped with rounded ridges to make it easy to grip. In some cases, more of the neck end of the gourd is cut off to speed removal of membranes and seeds, as well as drying. In this case, the end of the handle that will be attached to the gourd is cut into a funnel-like shape that will fit the gourd. Some handles are much simpler and resemble rod-like pieces of wood called dowels. The various types and shapes of handles are stored in boxes for assembly when the gourds are ready.
  4. When the gourds and seeds are dried, the outsides of the gourds may be sanded to smooth any irregularities. Each gourd is then partially filled with seeds. Other noisemakers like beans or small stones may be used for different sound effects, and the quantity of seeds or other materials also influences the sound. Manufacturers usually have their own special formula for filling the gourds or maracas made of other materials. Percussionists also request certain sounds, so some maracas are custom made.
  5. The handles are then attached to the gourds. Those with flared tops are matched to the gourds with larger openings, and the handle tops are shaped to suit the gourds. The fitted handles are then glued to the gourds. After they have dried, the gourd-handle join may be sanded so that the join can barely be seen. Long necks saved with their gourds are also glued in place with high-strength, long-lasting glue.

    When handles are not matched to the bells of the maracas, a transition join between the handle and each gourd may be needed. Some styles of maracas use a round piece of wood that is glued to both sections and wrapped with binding for an attractive finish. For other styles, twine soaked in glue is wound around the top of the handle and lower end of the bell. A second layer of twine binding is added to smooth the appearance.

  6. When assembly of the maracas is complete and glue has dried, the maracas are painted. In some cases, they are left in their natural finish. Bright enamels are used to paint the maracas by hand; usually, several layers are applied to create an even finish and blend the edges of the colors. When the paint has dried, the instruments are coated with shellac that is also dried.
  7. As a final step, the maracas are individually packaged as a pair in a box. Wrapping of the individual rattles prevents them from knocking against each other. The pairs in boxes are then packed in bulk for shipment to distributors or instrument shops.

Quality Control

Although maracas are relatively simple, they are still musical instruments that require care in manufacture. Skilled crafters complete all the steps in making maracas, and handcrafting is essential to many steps. Manufacturers oversee the process, but the workers themselves are the true quality control experts because pride in their work demands skill and attention. Workers also test the sound quality of the instrument. If the filling material is stuck together, the maraca must be discarded.


Manufacture of maracas does not generate any byproducts although many styles may be made in the same facility. Waste is also very limited. Membranes and seeds from the gourds can be disposed as green waste that can be composted. Wood shavings and saw dust and trimmings from other components are minor in volume.

The Future

Maracas have a long past and a promising future because of their rhythmic sound. They are often first instruments for children and so have happy associations. Musicologists, who preserve the history of musical styles that may not have been written down, are recording and documenting ethnic music using maracas in many parts of the world so this musical heritage will not be lost. In modern music, these percussion instruments have found comfortable homes in many musical styles. The recent and increasing popularity of Latin music has brought maracas great attention, and ethnic music demands the essential sound of the maracas. Recordings spread this fascination, building a larger and larger audience for the maracas.

Where to Learn More


Baines, Anthony, ed. Musical Instruments Through the Ages. New York: Walker and Company, 1976.

Buchner, Alexander. Folk Music Instruments. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1972.

Hunter, Ilene, and Marilyn Judson. Simple Folk Instruments to Make and to Play. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Sadie, Stanley, ed. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Vol. 2. London: Macmillan Press, 1984.


Jansky, Charlotte. “Allegro Music.” Web Page. December 2001. <>.

Mambiza Drums & Percussion Web Page. December 2001. <>.


6 Fun Facts about Colombian Musical Instruments

On Sunday, October 15 we will be celebrating the culture of Colombia at the museum. Join us for a day of workshops and musical performances inspired by Colombian artistic traditions! Activities will include sculpting the fauna of Colombia in the Clay Bar, designing buildings based on Colombian Modernist Architecture in the Fine Arts Studio, remixing music inspired by the Cumbia genre in the Soundbooth, and more!

To get you ready for the festival, we have gathered several fun facts about traditional Colombian music from performing musician, Martin Vejarano and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Did you know there are many different styles of Colombian folk music, such as cumbia and vallenato? This also means there are many kinds of instruments that Colombian folk musicians can use to make their music.

  1. Traditional instruments are made from various plants and animal skins.
  2. Maracas are made from dried gourds. When you shake it, the seeds inside produce the rattle sounds you hear!
  3. Gaita (also called kuisi) is a flute made from a type of cactus native to Colombia. The sound it makes is similar to that of a Spanish bagpipe!
  4. The guacaracha is made from the trunk of smaller palm trees. It is designed to sound like the guaracha bird!
  5. Drums are adapted from African drums. There are many kinds of drums, and each sounds different depending on their size.
  6. The tambour is a large bass drum made of wood from a tree and covered with deer, goat, or sheepskin.

This event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Dried Gourd Maracas: Tips For Making Gourd Maracas With Kids

If you are looking for a project for your children, something educational, yet fun and inexpensive, might I suggest making gourd maracas. There are other great gourd activities for kids, such as growing a gourd birdhouse, but using gourds for maracas is a simple way to start gourd crafting and is suitable (with adult supervision) for a wide age group.

Using Gourd Maracas

Maracas, also referred to as rumba shakers, are musical instruments native to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia Guatemala, and regions of the Caribbean and other Latin American countries. Sometimes they are made of leather, wood, or plastic, but the traditional material is a gourd, dried calabash or coconut filled with seeds or dried beans.

When using gourds for maracas, select one that will easily fit in the palm of the hand. Make sure the gourd has no visible rot or open wounds on the exterior.

How to Make a Gourd Maraca

Cut a small hole in the bottom of the gourd; this is where parental assistance is necessary if the kids are young. Don’t make the hole any bigger than your thumb. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from inside the gourd, about 2/3 of the interior should be scraped out. Then let dry overnight in a dry area.

The interior of your maraca can then be filled with pebbles, dried beans or even rice. The rice is used uncooked, but the dried beans need to go in the oven for 20 minutes or so at 350 degrees F. (176 C.) and then cooled. Again, depending upon the age of the child, adult supervision is required.

Insert a smooth wooden dowel into the hole and seal it with glue. Secure even more thoroughly with tape wound around the handle and opening. Tada! You can begin playing your new percussion instrument right now, or decorate it with non-toxic paint. Follow up the painting with a coat of shellac to preserve the maraca, which will last two weeks or even longer.

A variant of this activity is to make a shekere shaker, which is a musical shaker used by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. A shekere shaker is a dried gourd maraca which has beads, seeds or even small shells attached to netting that is then draped over the outside of the gourd. When it is shaken or slapped, the beads hit the outside of the gourd, creating a rhythmic sound. Creating shekere shakers is a bit more in depth than making gourd maracas.

For dried gourd maracas, begin as you would for the above, but once the gourd is cleaned out, it must be dried. To do this, you can lay it in the hot sun or to expedite the process, dry it in the oven at a low set temperature. Once it is dried, you can opt to paint the interior with shellac to prolong the shelf life.

Now that the gourd is dried, tie a band of string around the neck. Cut 12 more pieces of string (or more for big gourds) 2x the height of the gourd and tie to the band of string around the neck. Dip the string in melted wax to ease the threading of the beads. Make a knot in the string, thread a bead and tie a knot. Repeat until you have 4-5 beads on each of the strings. Tie or tape the strings of beads to the base of the gourd to hold in place.

There are excellent online instructions with step-by-step instructions and illustrations as well.

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