Rattle (percussion instrument)

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For the rotating instrument, see Ratchet (instrument).
Rattle from Papua New Guinea, made from leaves, seeds and coconut shell, to be tied around a dancer’s ankle
Maracas from Mexico
Rattles from Pompeii.

A rattle is a type of percussion instrument which produces a sound when shaken. Rattles are described in the Hornbostel–Sachs system as Shaken Idiophones or Rattles (112.1).[1]

Rattles include:

Though there are many different sorts of rattles, some music scores indicate simply a rattle (or the corresponding terms French claquette, hochet; Ger. Rassel, Schnarre; It. nacchere).[2]



Raven Rattle, 19th century, Brooklyn Museum

In Ancient Egypt, rattles were used during funerary rituals to signify regeneration in the after-life. Rattles were viewed as sacred and became the forerunners of the sistrum. The earliest Egyptian rattles were ovular and made of pottery. During the Predynastic and Old Kingdom periods rattles gained handles and different shapes and were made out of different materials such as basket, wood, and stone.[3]

Native American people often use rattles in ceremonial dances. Oftentimes, these rattles are meant to represent something. Each figure or depiction can relate to something sacred to their tribe.[4] Often, the sound of rattles forms a connection to the supernatural world when the rattles are employed by shamans. The use of the raven rattle, like the one pictured to the right, always implies power, which when used in dances, symbolize the status of the chief, who has a hereditary right to use the rattle.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Erich M. von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, "Classification of Musical Instruments," Translated from the original German by Anthony Baines and Klaus P. Wachsmann, The Galpin Society Journal XIV (1961), 15-16, http://www.jstor.org/stable/842168.
  2. ^ James Blades and John M. Schechter. "Rattle". In Macy, Laura. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ Arroyos, Rafael Pérez (2003). Egypt: Music in the Age of the Pyramids (1st ed.). Madrid: Centro de Estudios Egipcios. p. 29. ISBN 8493279617. 
  4. ^ "Native American Rattles". Indians.org. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  5. ^ "Raven Rattle". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 

External links[edit]