frame drumming in puerto rico, puerto rican frame drums, drummers rhythms pandereta plena guicharo caribbean

below: pleneros in Puerto Rico - photo by Pedro Barriera

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About the instruments
(click for a bigger picture)

(stu's notes) The panderetas Jorge brought for this recording , shown above, are made of heavy steel, and have a wonderful feel in the hand.

The güícharo has very fine line lines etched into the side, much finer than the cuban style guiro, and the small hole is plugged again after removing the insides, so that no open hole exists in the gourd.







Rhythms of Puerto Rico

Part 1: Plena
By Jorge Ginorio

The origins of the musical form known as Plena can be traced back to the early 1900's. It originated on Puerto Rico's southern coast, in a sector known as La Joya del Castillo, ("Jewel of the Castle"), located on Castillo street in the city of Ponce. Plena functions as a sort of singing newspaper in which barrio residents recount events and scandals of the day.

The main percussion instruments used in plena are three panderetas, (single-headed hand held frame drums), also known as panderos, and a güícharo (gourd scraper). The names of the panderetas from low to high are Seguidor, Segundo or Punteador (also known as "Banao" in the area of Santurce), and Requinto.

In the plena ensemble, the seguidor, punteador and güícharo establish the basic plena rhythm while the requinto improvises, creating rhythmic interaction with the call and response vocals and the melodic instruments.

Modern panderetas are made of different types of materials such as wood, steel, and fiberglass. They utilize tuning hardware quite similar to that found on timbales. Panderetas are headed with goatskin. The tuning is fairly tight, and each drum feels and sounds more like a conga than many frame drums. The basic sound for the seguidor and the punteador is the open tone, while the requinto has two basic sounds, the slap and the open tone.

In the old tradition of plena known as "Punta de Clavo", requinto players used their fingers more in their playing style, according to Hector "Tito" Matos, (Plena expert and director of the New York base plena group Viento de Agua). Pleneros del Quinto Olivo established a new way of playing in which the whole hand is used (similar to the "conga drum" technique). Today, this has become the standard way of playing, especially for the requinto.

In Puerto Rico plena is played at different tempos in different regions. For example, plena from Ponce is usually slower from plena of Santurce. Also within the Plena genre there are some variants such as; Plena Lamento (a very slow tempo plena with lyrics of sadness and melancholy), Plena Poética (a medium tempo plena with poetic verses adapted to the lyrics), and Plena con Mambo (a fast tempo plena with a very short "Coro", also known as "Coro Picao"). the latter is the preferred variant by contemporary Plena groups like; Plena Libre, Plenéalo, Viento de Agua, and Truco y Zaperoko.

Some of the major exponents of Plena, (past and present), are: Joselino "Bumbúm" Openheimer, "Los Ingleses", Aranzamendi Brothers, Mario Rivera, Manuel "Canario" Jiménez, Marcial Reyes, César Concepción, Orquesta Panamericana de Lito Peña, Grupo ABC, Hermanos Santana, Rafael Cortijo e Ismael Rivera, "Mon" Rivera, Familia Cepeda, Hermanos Ayala, Pleneros del Quinto Olivo, Grupo Atabal, Paracumbé, Plena Libre, Plenéalo, Plena Dulzura, Golpe de Plena, Pleneros de la 21, Viento de Agua, Truco y Zaperoko, among others.
©2003 Jorge Ginorio

(stu writes) So there you have it: an indroduction to Plena. This is just the begining. More about the "Punta de Clavo" style and the "Banao" from Santurce. Stay tuned! :-)


Jorge Ginorio Homepage

write to jorge

Listen to the rhythms of the plena:

Seguidor (the low part)

Segundo or Punteador the middle part(We put a small lower note on '1' of the 1st and 2nd 4 bar phrases, so you'd have a feeling for where '1' is in the pattern)


All Together, with the Requinto soloing on top

Sheet music (right click in windows or click and hold on mac and choose 'save as' to download)

This is a basic version of Plena. In Puerto Rico, Plena is played at
different tempos in different regions. For example, Plena from Ponce is
usually slower from Plena of Santurce.





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