Sydney Recording Studio: The cuica is an instrument of African origin composed of a soundbox (a cylindrical chromed steel or aluminium shell, from 6 to 12 inches in diameter) or even with one or two brass horns attached to the shell, and a reed or bamboo stem cut and attached to the center of a thin and natural skin (usually goat), by a string. To attach the rod, it was first necessary to moisten the skin to soften, then let it dry to stiffen and shrink on the end of the stem.

Sydney Recording Studio: Cuica

When mounted on the drum, the playing consists of rubbing the rod (“rough”) with a sponge first dampened (to enhance friction) with one hand while pressing the skin on the other side (the rod being inside the drum) for varying the tone. The cuica skin should not be too tight for a large range of tones. cuica playing The friction of the rod causes the vibration of the skin in a continuous sound (and not a beat, what would happen if it was “struck”), like a violin. The cuica has a specific basic phrase (pattern, melody) that can be taken up by instruments capable of performing two notes of different pitch (agogo, apito, pandeiro, etc.) called “partido alto” (“high part”) which is one of the most typical Brazilian pattern and often imitated on guitar.

Sydney Recording Studio: How a Cuica is played

The rhythm is dictated, like for a violin, by the back and forth of the rubbing (“drawing”) hand (successions of “push” – “pull”).

Sydney Recording Studio: How a Cuica is Maintained

This is a delicate instrument to maintain, preserve and play, because if the sponge is no more wet, it rubs no more, and if it touches the skin, it will cause its breaking, due to its porosity, tension and thineness. Do not put all hands, then. Cuica players should always carry a small bottle with water on them to moisten the sponge (which becomes dry after a few minutes of playing).
Sydney Recording Studio Cuica