Exploring Percussion with the Tambuco Ensemble, Part Five: The Music and Dance of Body Percussion

Finn Smith is a 2021 Junior Fellow at the Library. He is a student at Vassar College studying philosophy and studio art, and is rumored to play (and sometimes teach) music of all sorts. In October 2020, the Library of hosted the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble for a virtual concert and a series of five educational videos about percussion. Together, these videos serve as a lively and informative demonstration of how varied and versatile percussion is—while it can be formalized, it is most fundamentally a way of engaging with one’s environment musically, and is accessible to everyone. What follows are some supporting materials and questions to consider while viewing these five educational videos with kids. Part 5 of 5.

The fifth and final video in the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble educational video series is on body percussion, and it is great fun. So far the videos in this series have involved all sorts of percussion instruments, but the only instrument used in this one is the human body! Various techniques and styles of body percussion can be found across a vast array of musical traditions, and it is one of the most natural ways for people to engage with the world musically. It can constitute anything from simply clapping along to a song or tune to creating complex rhythms with one’s entire body like the musicians of the Tambuco Ensemble do here.


As you watch this last Tambuco Ensemble educational video together, you might think that the musicians look more like they are dancing than making music. Have kids think about how music and dance relate to one another—where they overlap and where they don’t. You might have them consider some of these questions:

  • When you dance, are you completely silent? Can you hear your feet on the floor and your clothes brushing against themselves?
  • Think about how the sounds you make when you move and dance are different from (and similar to!) the sounds the musicians in this video make. Do you think you could turn those incidental sounds into body percussion? Could it be that they are already body percussion in their own way?

Tap dancing is one of the most popular and formalized forms of body percussion as a conscious integration of music and dance. Tap dancers wear shoes with metal plates on their soles and perform complex dance routines, with dance steps specifically designed to produce all sorts of different percussive sounds and rhythms. This 1939 recording from the Library’s California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties collection is a great example of a tap dancer functioning primarily as a musician—we can’t see the dancer, but the rhythm of his feet is an integral part of the music being performed. Conversely, here’s a short silent film from 1902 of tap dancers on stage— they are clearly dancing, but the technology of the time leaves the music of their feet to viewer’s imagination.

There are all sorts of ways to make music with the instrument that is your body, with or without additional instrumental supplementation. The musicians of the Tambuco Ensemble get very creative, and so does Panhandle Pete in this photo from the Library’s Lomax Collection—how creative do you think you could be?

One Comment

  1. Anne Menendez
    July 7, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    This will be a great way for students, especially middle schoolers with all there energy, to express themselves and just plane have fun.

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