To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Maracas have a rich history in Latin America and are a staple of Latin music. While this Latin percussion instrument may seem simple to play, mastering maracas takes practice and coordination.



Usher Teaches The Art of PerformanceUsher Teaches The Art of Performance

In his first ever online class, Usher teaches you his personal techniques to captivate audiences across 16 video lessons.

Learn More

What Are Maracas?

Maracas, also known as rumba shakers, are a hand percussion instrument usually played in pairs and common in Caribbean, Latin American, and South American music. Maracas are a rattle instrument traditionally made of dried calabash gourds or turtle shells filled with beans, beads, or pebbles. Today maracas are made out of many different materials—you can find wood maracas, fiber maracas, rawhide maracas, and plastic maracas.

Maracas belong to the idiophone group, which consists of musical instruments that create sound by vibration without using strings, air, or membranes. Unlike idiophones that produce sound when struck (such as castanets, cymbals, and xylophones), maracas belong to a subcategory of shaken idiophones.

What Are the Origins of Maracas?

Rattles similar to maracas have existed for millennia in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. The Araucanian people, who live in what is now central Chile, may have been the first to use the word maraca to describe a gourd rattle around 500 BC. Some historians, though, attribute the word's origins to the Tupi people in pre-colonial Brazil. There are also ancient records of maracas in West Africa, where a Guinean legend describes a goddess who made a maraca out of a gourd and white pebbles.

Usher Teaches The Art of Performance
Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing
Reba McEntire Teaches Country Music
deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production

4 Ways Musicians Use Maracas

Maracas produce different sounds depending on the outer material, inner fillings, and size, and they’re common in many musical genres.

  1. In Cuban music: Musicians typically use maracas to keep the beat and supply rhythmic accompaniment in Cuban music genres like salsa, guaracha, son Cubano, cha cha chá, and mambo.
  2. In Afro-Puerto Rican music: Maraca players typically use one maraca with a higher pitch and one maraca with a lower pitch—except for the Afro-Puerto Rican musical style Bomba, which only uses one large maraca.
  3. In orchestral music: While maracas are most prevalent in Latin music, they aren't confined to the genre. For example, in 1942, famed American composer Leonard Bernstein used maracas as drumsticks in his Jeremiah Symphony.
  4. In rock ’n’ roll: Bo Diddley, pioneer of rock ’n’ roll, frequently used maracas in his songs.

Want to Learn More About Music?

Become a better musician with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by musical masters, including Sheila E., Timbaland, Itzhak Perlman, Herbie Hancock, Tom Morello, and more.


Suggested for You

Online classes taught by the world’s greatest minds. Extend your knowledge in these categories.


Teaches The Art Of Performance

Learn More
Christina Aguilera

Teaches Singing

Learn More
Reba McEntire

Teaches Country Music

Learn More

Teaches Electronic Music Production

Learn More