Many of us are familiar with the drum set. It’s the throne of a drummer where he sets the pace and tone of the music with his drumsticks. But you may have also heard of a portable percussion instrument known as the Cajon? But what is Cajon? If you have seen a live band performance and wondered what is the name of that wooden box the drummer is sitting on to produce drum beats with his hands - that is the Cajon.
Where Did The Cajon Originate?
The Cajon looks like a wooden crate and it came from Peru. It dates about two centuries before the 19th century. At that time, slaves from Africa were forbidden to play the drum and so they had to look for an alternative.
So, the first Cajon might have really been a wooden fruit crate. The developed wooden box you see now was introduced by Paco de Lucia, a Spanish flamenco guitarist. It arrived in Europe in the late 1970s and from the 90s, gained popularity via the “MTV Unplugged” wave.
Why Is Cajon Popular?
As epic as the drum set is, it is difficult to transport and assemble. It is also difficult for a beginner to practice at home without disturbing the neighbors.
A Cajon on the other hand is convenient to carry around and for home practices. Moreover, it is easy to learn and the barrier to entry learning a percussion instrument is low. It is a good alternative to the grand drum set.
The sounds of a Cajon may sound somewhat primal for the tones achieved with it is remarkable. You can check out the sound of the Cajon with our Uptown Funk Cajon cover tutorial here.
You create sounds on the Cajon using your hands, palms, and fingertips. Cajons are made of hardwood and an extra layer of plywood nailed to the “front” side. The front part where you create sounds is also known as the ‘face’ or ‘tapa’. Where you hit your hand determines the tone emitted.
Types of Cajon
Cajons are about 48 x 30 x 30 cm in size and usually made of birch or beech plywood. High-end models are made of solid wood. There is the string and snare Cajon. String Cajon has two or four guitar strings as a snapping element along the back of the striking surface. String Cajon comes from Spain and has a sensitive snare response and an overall dry sound but with brilliant bass and snare separation.
The Snare Cajon on the other hand produces a livelier sound similar to drum set grooves. Snare Cajon has sare wires equipped against the back of the striking surface which rattles when struck. There is also the original archetype Afro-Peruvian Cajon that has no snares or strings inside. It produces a woody sound very popularly used in flamenco.
How To Play The Cajon
The most common way to play the Cajon is to sit on top and reach over with your hands to smack the face. Some percussionists however choose to sit behind the Cajon on a chair and straddle it on their upper body when they perform. Others may tilt it inward as they play. The fun part about the Cajon is the flexibility for various styles of playing. You have to experiment to find out which style suits you the best.
You may hurt your back on the Cajon if you don’t keep a proper posture. So, it is important to stretch before performing and in between sets as well to prevent injury. Whatever style you choose to play the Cajon, remember to keep your spine straight but relaxed.
Are you yet intrigued by the Cajon? Ritmo Music Studio offers lessons on the Cajon as well as other percussion instruments. You can simply arrange for a trial lesson with us.