Instruments Used in Calypso Music

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Recognized for its steel drums, upbeat rhythms and Caribbean ties, calypso music originated during Trindad's carnival celebrations and has roots in West Africa, according to the Loyola University New Orleans' and National Geographic's music website. In this genre, which is also known as kaiso, an orchestra of musicians called a "steelband" use a variety of instruments to create their distinct sound.

Steel Drums

Steel drums are the best-known calypso instrument.
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Musicians first began making steel drums out of oil drums in the 1940s. After World War II, there was an excess of oil drums left behind from the military which the musicians began to fashion into steel drums, according to To make these instruments, which are also called pans, experimenters began to hammer and tune the bottoms of drums or oil drum lids to create different pitches. This steel drum is still the most widely-recognized instrument of Calypso music and is played with rubber mallets.

Rhythm Section

A tambourine is a popular instrument in Calypso rhythm sections.
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In the rhythm section, calypso musicians play a Caribbean instrument called the scratch, which is a cylindrical grater that is scratched with a metallic comb, according to Another local instrument is an iron drum, made from track brakes hammered with iron sticks. Non-regional musical additions in the rhythm section include tambourines or congas. Because calypso ensembles vary in size from one member to more than a hundred, each group individually selects the number of players for each instrument.

Brass Instruments

There are calypso ensembles that include a trumpet player.
Trumpet 4 image by Chad Perry from

Modern-day steelbands often include a brass section with a trumpet, trombone or saxophone to create a fuller sound. Also, the flute, guitar and bass may be included in calypso ensembles.


About the Author

Based in Budapest, Lynn Klein began writing professionally in 2007. Her first job was as a business and culture reporter at a midsized daily newspaper in Colorado and her freelance articles have appeared in "The Marquee," "American Cowboy" and "Denver Life." She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Colorado.

Photo Credits

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