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The Cajon: A Guide To The Percussive Powerhouse

The Cajon: A Guide To The Percussive Powerhouse

Updated 09/01/19

The Cajon has grown from unusual world percussion instrument to acoustic set staple, for some very good reasons…

Ten years ago, if you’d seen someone sat on a box at a gig, tapping away, you might have thought that one of the roadies had decided to claim his 15 minutes of fame. These days, however, this is a common sight, and all thanks to the Cajon.

Image of a cajon

This box-shaped piece of percussion is so innocuous looking, that many don’t even realise that it is an instrument at all.

Essentially, the Cajon is a wooden box, usually with a faceplate made of thinner plywood. The player sits on the instrument and plays it by hitting different parts of it with their hands (or occasionally brushes, mallets or even kick drum pedals).

Box-shaped drum

The Cajon has a very interesting history too. The popular belief is that the Cajon originated in coastal areas of Peru, among slave populations. One theory is that the instrument mimics the box-like drums played in some areas of Western and Central Africa. When slaves from these areas were transported to Peru, they re-created their traditional instruments from the materials they had, which were primarily shipping crates. Thus, the Cajon was born.

However, another theory proposes that Spanish masters oppressed the African slaves in Peru and prevented them from playing music. By using the abundant shipping crates, they could play music, and disguise their instruments as a stool, table, or shipping crate, should their captors return.

Image of a cajon

What does it sound like?

There are several reasons that the Cajon has become incredibly popular in recent years. First and foremost is its sound.

Typically, a Cajon will have either a string, or a snare behind the faceplate, meaning that when hit hard in certain places, the sound has a ‘snap’ or ‘buzz’ much like a snare drum. Because of the shape, a hit to the centre of faceplate results in a far deeper sound than when played at the edge. Plus, the sides, which utilise thicker woods, can also be struck.

The result is a huge palette of different sounds to draw from, in an instrument that is very intuitive to play. By combining deeper sounding hits with the snappier snare hits, a sound not unlike a drum kit played with brushes or rods can be approximated. This makes it perfect for acoustic gigs.

Image of a cajon

Secondly, it’s incredibly easy to transport, weighing only a few kilos. For percussionists who don’t like to sit out acoustic jam sessions, again, this is perfect.

The Cajon is a relatively inexpensive instrument, meaning that if you want to invest in one just for those acoustic sessions, it needn’t break the bank. Plus, it can even double as an emergency chair… 😉

The Electric Cajon

Yes, the Cajon is a renowned acoustic instrument, but the ever-forward-thinking Roland have taken this revered instrument and turned it into a complete portable sound system. The Roland EC-10 Electric Cajon takes the unique percussive instrument to new levels. You get a fully functioning acoustic Cajon but with Roland’s electronic percussion technology built in. That means 30 built-in electronic kits all triggered the same way you would normally play a Cajon. Roland have always been a brand to focus on new technological advances when it comes to instruments, but this thing is a real show stopper. Check out the video below.

For a full range of Cajons, check out our online store.

About The Author

Jon

Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and - pretty much - everywhere, he joined the Dawsons' Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.