Castanets are a musical instrument of the percussion family. They look like concave shells joined by a string, and are usually made of hardwood. The origins of the instrument are not known, as the musical practice of clicking items together to make sounds for musical purposes has existed since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks clicked sticks together to create music for dance which later were replaced by bones and spoons in other cultures. Castanets in their current shape appear to have begun in Spain, with a Spanish dancer using a set in each hand while creating clicking sounds to accompany their dance.
Interesting Castanets Facts:
The word ‘castanet’ is derived from the Spanish word ‘castaina’ which means ‘chestnut’.
The Spanish have other words for castanets as well including pulgaretes and platillos.
Castanets are referred to as pulgaretes when they are attached to the dancers’ thumbs.
When playing the castanets the musician rests one clapper of the set in the palm of the hand, and links the string around their thumb. They use their fingertips to strike the other clapper of the set against the clapper resting in the palm to create sound
Some musicians use other techniques to create sound with castanets as well.
Women usually use the smaller castanets as the instrument should fit in the palm of the hand. Men usually use the larger castanets because their hands can accommodate the larger size Smaller castanets produce a crisp, higher tone, while larger castanets produce a rich, mellow, lower tone.
Cheaper wood or plastic castanets are inexpensive and can be found for as little as $10
Castanets that are handcrafted for professional musicians are made of more expensive materials such as hardwood or composite and cost much more – as much as $400 a set
Some castanets are made for novelty purposes from materials that are not suitable to produce the quality of sound desired by musicians. Novelty castanets are often made of bronze, silver, gold, marble, crystal, and even ivory.
Quality castanets are usually made of hardwoods such as oak, pomegranate, ebony, rosewood, and granadillo.
Many professional castanets today are made of synthetic materials such as Micarta – a laminated material made similar to the method of creating fiberglass. Layers of fiber cloth are bonded with resin and heat and pressure are applied to create a product similar to hardwoods.
Although traditionally castanets were made in the shape of a concave shell, today they are also made in other shapes such as rectangular, square, or even triangular.
The sounds made by castanets comes from their size, depth of hollow (or concave shape), and contact area at the tip of the castanet clappers
Dancers use castanets to accompany their dancing but they are being used in other music as well – even in orchestras today.
Some castanets are mounted on wooden handles, freeing up the musicians hands from the strings. Instead of strings they clappers are attached by elastic cords. This makes it easy for the musician to pick up the wooden handle and clap the castanets and set them back down quickly when not being played.