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Playing the Cajon

Updated on October 15, 2014
robertzimmerman2 profile image

Robert is from south-east Florida and serves the world as a reference librarian. Also a musician, Bob plays bass in a Indie cover band.

Cajon | Source

Make Music Slapping a Box?

That's Right! The Cajon is a simple percussion instrument consisting of a wooden box the player sits on and slaps with their hands and fingers. It is from South America but is used in many different styles of music. Also, like other Hand Drums such as Bongos or Djembe, the Cajon is a great instrument to teach children the fundamentals of music. Adults need more fun in their lives too and Hand Drumming is a great stress reliever and spirit lifter.

READ ON! Playing the Cajon is FUN!

Cajon | Source

History of the Cajon

A cajon (pronounced "Ka-hone") is a musical percussion instrument that is constructed of wood in the shape of a hollow box The cajon is built strong enough for a player of average size to sit on. The top of the cajon often has a pad so the player can tilt the cajon backwards slightly but not slip off. The front panel is made of thin wood to create more variety of sounds.

Notice how the cajon in this picture has a hole in one side. That is a port just like a HiFi Speaker might have. The port works with the box shape of the cajon to reinforce the low sound to give it more "BOOM". When played, the side with the hole will be in back, away from the audience, however, some cajons are made with the hole in the side. People have added other things to the inside and outside of cajons to expand the range of sounds available. Tambourines, snares, pedals (for using your feet) and other things have been added.

Cajons originated in Peru, South America in the 1800's by African slaves, who most likely began using wooden boxes or crates to make music. Another theory is that the Africans modified available boxes to be similar to wooden box drums from their homelands. Either way, their ingenuity under adversity (I call genius) resulted in an easy to obtain, musically flexible instrument. As well, slave holders (in this case the Spanish) commonly attempted to repress their slave's African culture. What better way to hide a banned African drum than as a box carried in plain sight!

As people spread the cajon around South America and the Caribbean, other cultures adopted it into their music. Since cajons are simple to make out of inexpensive plywood, they have became popular all over the world. One thing I personally like about the cajon is that you get the sound of a skin drum without the skin. You do not need to tune the cajon like a skin headed drum nor is it affected by water and humidity. That makes a lot of sense when you think about how wet places like Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba are most of the time.

Portable Percussion!

Fernando's Kitchen
Fernando's Kitchen | Source

Like the woman in the photo above (Heidi Joubert from the band "Fernando's Kitchen"), players sit on the cajon with it tilted back slightly. This lets the player sit more erect but forces them to balance carefully. In a setting of a duo or trio, the cajon can easily hold it's own in the sound mix and provides a wide variety of rhythm for the group. Notice that the cajon above also has small feet on the bottom. That way the player can rest it flat on the floor.

There is definitely more to playing the cajon than just slapping it! But, since it is a percussion instrument and a wooden box the essential method of getting sound out of cajon is to slap the side of the box in different places and with different parts of the hand to produce a variety of sounds. When you slap the side of the cajon close to the edge you get a high pitched "POP" and if you slap the side towards the center you get a lower "BOOM".

Players also use their thumbs and fingers to create other types of sound from a cajon. As well, each instrument can have different spots on the side where the player gets the sounds they want. The environment can make a difference too. If the cajon is sitting directly on a wooden floor the sound can be louder and with more low bass. If the cajon is sitting on tile, the higher pitches can be louder. With a larger band playing on stage, the cajon can have a microphone nearby to amplify the sound through the PA system.

Other Types of Cajons

We've seen that the cajon is a beautifully simple instument. The cajon player can produce a wide variety of sounds by slapping different parts of the cajon. I mentioned before how other things have been added to cajons to make more sounds. Also, Cajons are available in a "laptop" version!

The most common of these is called a "Snare Cajon". The snare coajon has additional parts that make the snappy snare drum sound. Inside the cajon, a set of wires are attached to an adjustable rod so that the wires are laying against the inside of the cajon. When the player slaps the side the wires are laying against, the sound includes a "snap" or "chit" sound like a snare drum. By turning a knob on the outside of the cajon (on the end of the rod attached to the wires) the player can increase or decrease the tension on the wires laying against the inside of the cajon. Less tension results in a "fatter", "looser" sound while more tension results in a "crisp" or "tight" sound. If you loosen the knob enough, the wires come away from the side and the snare sound is removed.With a snare cajon, a player can get closer to the sound of the "boom" "chick" of a drumset bass and snare drums.

The Slap Top Cajon is a smaller box with a port on the front to maximize the bass. The top is much wider which gives the player many sound options. The Slap Top Cajon is played sitting on a chair with the box section fits between the player's legs so the slapping surface is right on their lap!

Snare & Subwoofer Cajon!

Meinl Percussion SUBCAJ1AWA Subwoofer Snare Cajon, American White Ash (VIDEO)
Meinl Percussion SUBCAJ1AWA Subwoofer Snare Cajon, American White Ash (VIDEO)

The Meinl Percussion Subwoofer Snare Cajon features a forward facing port so you do not have to tilt the drum so it can be better for some with back issues. The Snare wires are inside the drum.


Meinl Slap Top Cajon

Meinl Percussion TOPCAJ1MB Makah Burl Slap-Top Cajon with Internal Snare and Forward Projecting Sound Ports (VIDEO)
Meinl Percussion TOPCAJ1MB Makah Burl Slap-Top Cajon with Internal Snare and Forward Projecting Sound Ports (VIDEO)

Here's a different take on the Cajon! This on is designed to fit between your legs and you slap the top (like Bongos). There is a front facing port to maximize the bass tones.


There's a TRAVEL CAJON???

You bet! In today's world many people travel far and wide by car, train, boat and plane to do business and meet friends. What if you could take you Cajon with you? You can!

Meet the Meinl Travel Cajon. It has a sound port on one side and internal snare wires give it a snappy sound when you strike certain areas. You just lay it on your lap and slap away! There's even an optional bag!

Join in at a jam session in Jakarta! Practice your Hand Drumming in Paris! Meet friends in a coffee house in 'Frisco! You got it?

Hand Drumming Happiness

The cajon is a great instrument to learn the basics of Afro-Latin percussion. It doesn't need electricity, Does not need to be tuned, is resistant to moisture more than skin head drums, you can play it sitting down and it does not take a long time to learn.

One of the great aspects of Hand Drumming is the wide variety of instrument choices we have these days. Hand Drumming is a great thing to do for lowering the stress of modern life. You can connect to an earlier time in human history when technology was carved from a dead tree.

Happiness is playing Hand Drums!

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Never heard of the cajon, learned something new today. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for one. Interesting hub.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 4 years ago

      Hadn't heard of this type of musical instrument -- I like how it is multifunctional! You can sit on it and play it!

    • profile image

      Sheeves 4 years ago

      Cajons are awesome! You can build them yourself too!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I was thinking Cajun music when I saw your title (which I love). I had no idea that there was such a thing as a cajon instrument.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have not heard of the cajons before but now I will recognize this when I see one.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      @SkylerV: They are addicting aren't they?

    • SkylerV profile image

      SkylerV 5 years ago

      I've played a cajon a few times and they are awesome. Would love to have one. Great lens, great info.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My best friend plays guitar and bought one of these for his wife. He's described it but never knew what it was. I gave him a look when he first mentioned its name. Ha.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      This is the first I'd heard of the cajon, but it looks like it would be great fun to play - assuming one could stay balanced on the tilted box!

    • jdwheeler profile image

      jdwheeler 5 years ago

      Didn't know the box had a certain name. I can really impress folks now!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is very interesting