How to Play Orchestral Castanets

Orchestral Castanets are fun to play but they take a bit of practice to learn how to play well. To play the castanets, hold them by the handles and keep one finger touching the top castanet. You then strike the castanet against your knee. You can play the castanets one at a time or together. I like the sound of both castanets playing at once so usually I’ll always play my castanet rhythms with two hands at once for a fuller more “castanetty” sound.

Take a look at this video for a quick castanet lesson and a great view of a windsurfer taking a nose dive.

The Castanet Roll

To play a roll you produce both a down stroke sound against your knee and an up stroke sound that is made as you lift the castanet up and the bottom piece on the castanet slaps upward and hits the top. Hold the top half of the castanets with your extended forefinger in contact with the top half applying slight downward pressure. Practice playing with one hand at a time to develop an even sound and then play both hands together to produce a thick castanet roll sound.

What Castanets Should You Use?

Here’s what I play:

I use the Frank Epstein Castanets that are made of rose wood and fastened to handles that Frank makes very well. The castanets are held in place with an elastic and you may find that they are really tight when you first get them and a little hard to play. All that’s required is a break in period and they will loosen up as you practice.

You can find Frank’s castanets for purchase at his site, along with a Castanet playing machine that holds the instruments in place so that you can play with your hands if you don’t have the time to pick them up to play against your knee. I’m playing the medium sized castanets in the video and he has a larger pair and a smaller pair available too along with a handy carrying case that will protect your investment.

Thanks to Eldon and his flying windsurfer for his cameo appearance in the video on this blustery day on the St Lawrence River.

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