tan tan, tantan, rebolo, pagode, brazilian percussion instruments

According to my friend Emiliano Benevides, "The Tantãn was first introduced by Sereno (below), from the bloco Cacique de Ramos, in the mid-70s.

Sereno is one of the founding members of the Pagode Group Fundo de Quintal, [since 1980].

Listen to Fundo De Quintal

Below: Ubirany, also of Fundo de Quintal, the originator of the repique de mao.

What is Pagode?

The section in red is from the excellent book, Batuque é um Privelégio, by Oscar Bolão, one of Rio's top percussionists.

"Sunday, in the house of Vavá, there was a tremendous Pagode that you wouldn't believe..." These lines of verse written by Paulinho de Viola make it clear that the term Pagode means more than just a musical genre. it signifies a good time, a party where people get together to [play and] sing sambas. as time went by, the term came to be used to classify a specific type of samba, heir to the Partido Alto. Composers like Zeca Pagodinho and Groups like Fundo de Quintal emerged, who modified the instrumentation of traditional ensembles by adding the tantan, the hand repique, and the banjo to the accompniment."

Stu: Apparently, as time has gone by, the term 'Pagode' has been degraded by many commercial groups who have played a lesser version of the music, until now, there is now a sense in which the term Pagode means very commercial pop, a negative term.

Indeed when surfing Pagode online, we had trouble at first finding any that we liked. It seems like a singalong song genre, where melody is very important and chord changes are always prominent, and in live versions i found, it seemed that everyone in the audience knew all the words, and the concert was about everyone singing the songs together.

Suffice it to say that these [tantan] instruments deserve to be explored for their physical properties, and that they need not be stylistically tied to one genre.



The Tantan Page
[tan tan]

We love Tan Tan, Rebolo, and Repique de Mao, and we are glad that they are seeing more use here in North America.

Tan tan is a type of Brazilian bass drum of sorts.[some would say it is a a baritone or tenor drum, but it functions well on the low end.] It is the the only one [we know of] to be played by hand. Other Brazilian bass drums include the Surdo, Zabumba, and Alfaia. Tantan began mirroring the surdo in function, but it is definitely finding its own voice and style as time goes on.

They are single headed, cylindrical or sometimes conical , ultmately from the same larger family of cylindrical/conical instruments which includes the surdo, the timba/timbal/timbau, the caixa, etc..

The immediate family of instruments includes the large tan tan [usually 28" x 14"], the smaller rebolo [12" diameter, 18" to 24" in length], and the smallest of the three, repique de mao [usually either 10" or 12", but short]. All are used in Pagode music in Brasil.

In the Pagode groups we have researched on the Web, we have not seen the smaller rebolo played along with the tantan. In the case of Fundo de Quintal, for example, drumset and surdo are present as well, along with tantan, pandeiro, repique de mao, electronic keyboards, and the stringed instruments: guitar cavaquiño, and banjo. those, of course, are big stage situations. Many other venues will make the rebolo useful, such as smaller stages and live situations in homes and so on..

These are subtle instruments, not the drums to use when trying to be heard over a dozen djembe players flailing away with djun djuns and bells at a big drum circle. They have a breathy, airy feel to them, as you might expect when thinking of the column of air sent out with every stroke. In electronic situations, they must be miked.

Technique -

Basically the drum goes across your lap if you're seated, or strapped horizontally across you if you are standing. Thiss applies to both tanTan and rebolo, but to the best of our knowledge, no one marches with Repique de Mao, and it does not use a strap. (More on Repique de Mao later. For now, let's look at tantan and rebolo. We have assembled a page with video examples for you, sort of a grab bag of patterns to get started. See Patterns For TanTan.


The tan tan usually have NAPA heads, which emphasizes the bass. This is a layer of nylon with another layer of rubbery naughahide, attached only at the collar of the head. NAPA is good when you are miked or when not much volume, but much fullness is required. The extra layer takes out most of the upper harmonics, leaving a real thick low end.

Playing for dancers outside in the street, even with only 2 or 3 drummers, we found that a tan tan with a NAPA head sometimes did not offer enough projection. We began to experiment, and we realized that when you use other than NAPA heads, the drum begins to take on a character all its own. the upper harmonics on the edge of the drum are then more useful.

The calfskin option probably sounds the best when it is perfectly in tune, but one has to tune literally each time one sits down to play. It is best approached as a ritual, to focus before playing, maybe light some incense, breathe deeply and tune; it really is worth the time. However, in some situations it isn't practical. To get off a plane or out of a car in bad weather and be ready to play, better, we think, to use synthetics.

We have successfully used a wide variety of heads. Both REMO and Evans heads fit most of the time, although the collars are deeper than the Brazilian nylon, leather, or NAPA. It is a close call. In one case, with our shorter rebolo (18"x12") we had to work quite a bit to make a REMO fiberskin head fit onto the drum. The switch back to a Contemporanea calf head was a wiser choice. We currently use an Evans head on the striped tan tan in these /Quicktime examples.

REMO fiberskin worked great on the Contemporanea 28 x14 aluminum tantan at the Gator Bowl, roaming around Gainesville. Recording video on the move was definitely problematic, though, because the drum is so directional. often on playback, you can hear the timba better, and the low end on the recording is never as full as it seemed live.

Repique de Mao

Repique de Mao almost always has a nylon head. The description of how this instrument came about, from Bolão's excellent book Batuque é um Privelégio:

"Ubirany of the group Fundo de Quintal, says that one time he didn't have an instrument available to play and used a tom tom from a drum set that was in the house. Later, during a Pagode in the rehearsal rea of the carnival group Cacique de Ramos, and this time he used a normal repique, common among the Samba schools. Because of the excessive resonance of the instrument, he decided to take off one of the skins. the result is the basic instrument that is now called the repique de mao. Placed on the leg while seated, the repique is played with one of the hands on the skin, and the other on the shell."

We are still exploring our new repique de mao, and we will add to this page with more content on it soon. Stay tuned!

TanTan: a Summary


  • lightweight
  • inexpensive
  • not hard to learn to play basic patterns

Tan tan has a full but not overbearing low end; it cannot compete with louder drums and/or electronic instruments without a microphone. It is great for unplugged situations with acoustic guitar and so on. It is also good when used in conjunction with frame drums..

In duet format we loved using it along with a timbau, on the street with the Mad Croc Energy Gum street team; as we roamed the downtown bar district, we searched out doorways and little architectural warm spots, where the reflectiveness of the surfaces amplified and resonated the sound for us...It was good for roaming the street scene, including tight, crowded areas where a surdo or other bass drum might not have worked.

See a video example.

The hand on the shell did not offer quite enough volume, so we used a tuning wrench on the shell. Yes it dogged the shell out a bit, but we got the volume we needed. Next we will try a banana bell, tied onto the lugs..

Percussion instruments which might be used to round out the instrumentation include pandeiro, agogo, tamborim, caxixi, afoxe, etc.These instruments hold tremendous potential for use in various North American styles of music.

This subject is soon to be treated in a separate article: SMALL CIRCLE DRUMMING using Brazilian Pagode instruments. A Timba/Timbau page is in the works, also with video examples!

Also See
Patterns for TanTan




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