Simple but complicated at the same time, castanets can be considered to be the heart and soul of Flamenco music. Perhaps the simplicity of this instrument is what makes it so interesting, and yet so hard to learn to play professionally. Playing castanets is more than just producing a rattling sound. They truly apply to Flamenco that fast paced hearted rhythm which is so characteristic. The heritage of ancient Roman, Sephardic and even Moorish music is present today in contemporary Spanish music, precisely through castanets.
How to play castanets is not that difficult, from an execution point of view. However there are very few professional castanets players, and they are intensely sought by the main philharmonics and orchestras of the world. There are also very many different models of castanets, made of different shapes and material. Obviously the first castanets were made of wood, ebony and rosewood, but as technology advanced and new materials were discovered, fiberglass and plastic castanets started to be manufactured, making castanets available to all audiences.
Castanets come in pairs, one male and one female. Male castanets have a deeper, bass sound, while female castanets tend to have a higher pitch. The loop is tied over the middle finger, so as to have the fingers free to press the castanets gently on the palm of the hand. Make sure to find the right size of castanet for you, and fit the loop gently but not too tight on your finger.
Flamenco castanets, when well played, can become a truly versatile instrument. Five basic sounds can be produced with the castanets, and it is through their proper combination that castanet players make us follow the rhythm of Flamenco dance and also in major pieces of music, like Bizet’s opera Carmen or Emmanuel Chabrier’s piece Spain.