The Surdo Drum

Understand The Surdo Drum

The Percussion instrument, Surdo drum is a large drum made up of brass that is used in different kinds of Brazilian music. It is most notably used in Axe or Samba-reggae and also samba and its variants. In  Brazilian music, the Surdo drum plays the lower-parts from a percussion section. The Surdo drum sizes generally vary between 16 inches or 26 inches or 29 inches diameter.

The type of Surdo drum used in the north east of Brazil is mostly shallow. These drums may have shells of galvanized steel, aluminum or wood. The heads may be made of goat skin or plastic. The Rio bateria commonly uses Surdo drums that have heads made of skin for rich tone with aluminum shells for lightness. A Surdo is worn from a shoulder strap or waist belt. There is a bottom head which is not played in the Surdo drum.

The Samba-reggae style of music have usually 2 or even 3 Surdo tunings, higher tuning playing the middle Surdos, reverse of Rio-style samba (pulse 2) and lower tuning playing on the pulse 1. The middle Surdos can be played with 2 mallets in samba reggae allowing for more complex rhythms. The Pagode bands and smaller samba extensively uses the single Surdos. The bateria has 3 Surdo parts which are distinguished by tunings (or by sizes of drums and by extension).

These 3 parts drives and propels the samba. The 1st Surdo part is primeira or marker, on which the deepest and largest drums of the bateria are played. The second part is the resposta which is played generally on drums 20 inches to 22 inches in diameter. The 3rd part is called cutador, which is played on the highest pitched and smallest Surdos between 14 inches to 18 inches in diameter. This type consists of complex patterns providing syncopation and fills, producing a cutting across baisc pulse effect.


The Surdo drum was invented by Barcelos in Estacio deSa in Rio de Janeiro, used for the first time in Rio carnival in the year 1928; in a parade of the 1st ever samba school, The Deixa Falar. In the mid nineteenth century a shoe maker named Ze Pereira took to the streets in the carnival with a military bumba style bass drum. The picture of this portuguese gentleman, became a traditional caricature in a white shirt and a bass drum strapped in-front of his belly, in the Rio newspapers, which inspired Bide. The surdo drum became successful because before the surdo was used for the 1st time, there was no loud, big bass samba drum. The drums used before were not loud enough making it difficult for the beat to be heard by everyone.

The percussion instrument is mainly used in samba were ganza, chocalho, agogo, reco- reco, cuica and cavaquinho. There were no such samba drums built that could hold a strong and simple beat. With its strong, simple rhythm the Surdo drum became an immediate success. The instrument allowed every drum player to keep in time with the music and give unity and harmony to the carnival parade.

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