Escola de Samba

Samba in general has many different forms and tempos depending on what style you are playing (including escola de samba, pagode, samba afro, samba duro, etc.), so it cannot be defined as only one thing. For our purposes as percussionists, the heading “escola de samba” indicates the style of playing that takes place within the escola—specifically a marching style for the street parade, with a bateria of literally hundreds of drummers duplicating parts, and playing at a very fast tempo together with a theme song or “enredo.”

Literally, of course, the word “escola” in Portuguese means “school.” Back in the 1930s, the organizers of the first samba groups near Praça Onze in Rio de Janeiro met across the street from a classical musical school and decided to call their groups escolas de samba, partially as a way of trying to legitimize both the music and the culture from which the samba comes. Today, each official organized group in Rio that plays samba is called an escola de samba, or formally, “Gremio Recreativo e Escola de Samba (G.R.E.S.) __________” (Portela, Mangueira, Vila Isabel, etc.). The escolas are organized in a structure of levels; the top-level group, the “Grupo Especial,” at one time included 16 main escolas, but was then cut down to 14, and today is made up of 12 groups. These groups parade every year during a two-day competition on the Sunday and Monday night of Carnaval.

In the different escolas of Rio, there is a fairly consistent instrumentation within the bateria that includes repiniques (small metal drums played with one hand and one stick), caixas (snares), tamborims (small frame drums played with plastic beaters), chocalhos (large metal shakers), cuicas, and surdos (large bass drums of three different sizes, sometimes called treme terra, surdo maracana, and surdo de corte or terceira). Different groups may feature other instruments as well, such as agogos (multi-pitched iron bells), frigideiras (metal plates), or even atabaques (hand drums) to give the bateria a unique sound or to accompany a specific enredo.

Here at SambaMasterClass.com, we demonstrate the basic playing techniques of each of the typical bateria instruments, including different approaches that depend on the context, which escola’s style you’re studying, and where you might be in an arrangement. It is as thorough as we can make it without flying you to a samba school quadra in Rio!