There are few more Spanish sounds than the “click” of a pair of castanets.
Their rhythm is the bedrock of flamenco.
Castanet Guide for Beginners
All you need to know to get your first pair of Castanets
Castanets descend from an old family of musical instruments found on every civilized continent, with some examples dating back 10,000 years. The practice of clicking hand-held sticks together to accompany dancing is ancient, and was practiced by both the Greeks and the Egyptians. The modern style of castanets probably originated with the Phoenicians, who passed it on to the Iberians (Spain is also known as the Iberian peninsula).
Castanets, also known as clackers or palillos, are used in Spanish, Kalo, Moorish, Ottoman, Italian, Sephardic, Swiss, and Portuguese music. They were traditionally made of chestnut (Spanish: castaño), which is were the name comes from. Nowadays they are made out of fibreglass, which is more resistant to temperature changes and cheaper to produce.
Brands and Costs
Beginner castanets mostly come in black and are available online. If you are enrolled at a dance school in your area, your teacher or other students might’ve a pair for sale, so ask around.
To start you don’t need to spend a lot and you can get a pair of castanets for $40-$60 (amateur) including shipping. Castanets under $30 might just be “souvenir castanets“, which would be very light and often too small. As you develop your skills overtime you might want to move up the scale to a professional pair, in which the variety of models, colours, quality of the material and finish as well as available sizes increases, thus driving price up from around $200 up to professional concert castanets ( $1,200).
Filigrana and Castañuelas del Sur are the two leading brands of castanet manufactures in Spain, but there are other brands to choose from. Souvenir or decorative castanets sold at a tourist shops or online will not do. Look for “Beginner” or “Amateur” quality.
Amateur castanets come in 3 sizes which would be the equivalent of S, M, L. If you are on the grey zone between medium and small or medium and large my recommendation is to go smaller. Most of you will need the standard size, which is 4 in an amateur or semi-professional for “Castañuelas del Sur” and a 5 in “Filigrana“.
Measure your palm width and choose from the chart below to find your size. This size chart is based on these two brands.
Beware! Each manufacturer has their own sizing chart! 🥴
Where to order?
There are many portals to choose from. FlamencoExport, a Spanish specialized portal of flamenco goods has generally a good and fast service (3 business days). See examples with links below.
Castañuelas Del Sur for Beginners from FlamencoExport
“Filigrana” Castanets for Beginners from FlamencoExport
Ready to Play?
The 5 Castanet Sounds – How to Play Them
There are five sounds you can make with your castanets.
Your pair of castanets will have one with a mark/s or small dent on the wood at the top of one of the castanets. This is the “female” castanet (higher pitch) than the “male castanet” (lower pitch).The dominant hand (female castanet) is your dominant hand: right hand if you are right handed, and your left hand if you are left handed. It does a lot more work than the other hand.
- “TA” (tah) It is achieved by striking the ring finger and then middle finger of the left hand (male, non dominant hand) quickly on the castanet.
- “PI” (pea) “PI” is identical to “TA” except that it is done with the opposite hand. You can do it by hitting the castanet in your dominant (or female) hand with your ring finger and then with your middle finger.
- “RRI” (ree) This sound is produced by striking the castanet in your right hand or dominant hand with your little finger, ring finger, and index finger in rapid succession.
- “CHIN” You can create this sound by hitting the castanets against each other.
- “PAN” This is generally used to end a rhythmic sequence, as it has a good ending sound. To achieve this sound, use your ring and middle fingers to strike both castanets simultaneously.