The castanets, or “palillos”, part I

Their history, materials, maintenance

Castanets are a percussion instrument whose origins date back to the Phoenicians (c. 1,000 BC). They appear to have been a development of ancient castanets (crótalos), which were larger than present-day castanets, and were made of metal, fired clay or wood, and tied together with string or tape. Spain has been the country that preserved and developed their use since then, so much so that they became part of the Spanish cultural heritage. Almost every Spanish region has its own traditional kind of castanets. In Andalusia, they are known as palillos.

The best material for manufacturing castanets is wood, the harder the better. They can be made of boxwood, walnut, lignum vitae or ebony… Castanets made of

granadillo wood, which is imported from South America and Africa, are held in particularly high esteem. Nonetheless, other materials such as pressed canvas and fibreglass have become more common in the last few years due to the good results that they have provided.

- M aterials. As we have said above, recently new materials like pressed canvas or

fibreglass have become fashionable, because they are more resistant to temperature changes and to knocks; by taking a minimum amount of care of them, you will have castanets to last you a lifetime. However, there are also persons who prefer the sound of traditional wooden castanets, and choose ones that are made of granadillo wood, a material that is characterised by its hardness and good sound qualities, which is widely appreciated, among others, by professionals.

Ebony is another hard wood which has good sound qualities.

- Size an colour. The correct castanet size depeds on the size of one’s hand. Girls usually use size 6 castanets, whereas boys tend to use size 8. It is important for the castanets not to protrude excessively from one’s hands, and they shouldn’t be too heavy for them either. They should also be as discreet as possible, so you should choose black or brown ones; they will be less noticeable on the stage.

- Care and maintenance. In order for the castanets to sound good they must be well made, but it is also necessary to warm them up, through endless hours of use. To ensure that they maintain a good sound, you cannot neglect taking care of them: they should always be kept in their case, because moisture, or excessive cold or heat can cause them to crack or break.

Castanets or “palillos” II