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They may look like grown-up rattles, but maracas add some serious heft to a song, whether you’re jamming out with Bob Marley or singing with Santana. A traditional instrument with roots in the Caribbean and Latin America, maracas have been used for centuries to help keep the beat, and to add dynamics and expression to a song.
Essentially a musical rattle, the best maracas these days are made from hollowed plastic or ABS “bells,” which are then filled with pebbles, beans or seeds, each creating a different texture and sound. A wooden or plastic handle provides a secure grip for you to hold the instrument and start shaking.
Maracas are typically played as a pair, and make noise by being shaken forward and backwards. Some musicians prefer the sound of egg shakers, which are made from two halves of plastic and held in the palm of your hand.
For most percussionists, maracas and shakers are standard pieces of gear alongside their drum kit. It’s a great way to add dimension to your music through an extra layer of sound, or to take things down a notch when you want to ditch the cymbals and snares for a more subtle, acoustic vibe.
Commonly heard in Latin music, maracas have also made memorable appearances in songs by artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stone (“Sympathy for the Devil” anyone?) Whether you’re performing in concert, recording in the studio or just singing in church, we’ve rounded up some popular maracas and shakers that will give any song a little shake, rattle and roll.
1. Meinl Percussion Concert Maracas
Percussion pros and casual players alike will appreciate this set of concert maracas from Meinl, the German brand that’s been making percussion instruments and accessories since the 1950s.
These lightweight maracas are made with durable ABS plastic bulbs and wooden handles. The handles are ergonomically designed with a slight curve, for a more comfortable grip.
Sound is rich, warm and distinct — no fuzziness or cloudiness here. The bell and filling deliver plenty of volume to fill the room, even with a full band playing alongside you.
What we like: the elegant craftsmanship of these maracas, with the contrast-color bells and the handsome stitch detailing.
PROS: Two-year warranty.
CONS: These maracas are loud, with plenty of projection – if you’re looking for something softer and more subtle, you’ll want to consider other picks on our list.
2. Nino Percussion Plastic Egg Shaker Set
Great for kids or beginners, this value-packed set of shakers lets you add some color to your performance. The set includes four shakers, in aubergine, green, orange and blue. Sized at just two inches tall and weighing less than two ounces, they’re easy to pick up and play, no matter your age or skill level. While all four shakers make the same sound, the sound is crisp and clean, and really projects.
Made from a durable ABS plastic, both the filling and shell are non-toxic.
PROS: Comfortable, colorful shakers that are easy to pick up and play.
CONS: The four shakers all play the same sound.
3. Latin Percussion LP281 Pro Maracas
These maracas from Latin Percussion have been used by touring pros and session musicians around the world for years, thanks to their clear, consistent sound and sensitivity to movement. This set gets you a high-pitched bell and a low-pitched bell, which are used in tandem to produce a bright, room-filling sound. The comfortable handle lets you manipulate the maracas to add dynamics or tension to your performances, depending on how you shake them.
What we like: the vibrant yellow bell really stands out in a crowd, while the durable plastic shell and real wood handles hold up to frequent use.
PROS: LP has been manufacturing percussion instruments for more than 50 years. This set comes with a one-year limited manufacturer warranty.
CONS: Some say the maracas were too loud and weren’t great for blending into the other percussion instruments.