An Introduction to the Cajon

Playing-the-cajonGiven that the very word Cajon means box in Spanish, it is pretty easy to guess the evolution of this popular percussion instrument. Displaced African Slaves would use packing crates to replicate the drums of their homeland and the latin music of South America similarly employed old drawers and boxes in the same way and so the instrument was born. Musical necessity is the beat keeping mother of invention, it would seem. The instrument has since become associated with all forms of folk music, in the broad sense, meaning not just the folk genre, but blues, flamenco, country, bluegrass, gypsy…any music born out of the more impoverished strata of society.

Ironically, even in these more affluent times, the instrument is undergoing a renaissance, less out of practicality but more because modern musicians are exploring the authentic roots sounds of the past and incorporating them into all forms of indie, pop, nu-folk even dance and urban music.

Although if you are looking for real authenticity you could make or appropriate your own from discarded crates, cases or boxes, as a modern instrument the best approach is to purchase a professionally made Cajon, one that has a number of features that enhances the sound and allows you complete control and range whilst playing it. Most instruments will have the same common features.cajon_playing

Bearing in mind that you sit on the instrument itself to play it, comfort and versatility are important. A padded seat is an obvious starting point, especially if you are planning to sit down and play for a couple of hours at a gig but also features such as adjustable feet mean that you can change the position of the instrument for maximum comfort and non-slip rubber feet will mean that you don’t become the star of the show for the wrong reasons. Drum rolls should only happen when intended.

A Cajon’s unique sound comes largely from the snare wires within and these need to be adjustable, just like any other instrument you will want to change the sound from time to time or even from song to song.  Different wood finishes might make the instrument look great but it is also these that define the acoustic quality so try a few different ones out to find what works for you. You can also think about using a kick pedal or even brushes to create even more sound variation.

Price wise you can largely pay what you want and expect to get what you pay for, even under the $100 mark you will find perfect and fully functional cajons though the more you pay obviously the quality and capability of the instrument evolves from a basic percussive crate right up to electronic studio instruments. Its all there for the asking, you just need to decide what best serves your purpose… and pocketbook.

The Cajon has come along way from a discarded box reused to create beat and rhythm by industrious Peruvian musicians in the 18th century to the cool and contemporary, nu-folk musical weapon of choice. There is a wealth of instruments available to the modern percussionist, options ranging from the all encompassing, professional precision piece to the cheap and practical starter instrument. And if you are looking for the perfect place to start then you get that for free –

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