What is a GüIro?

The güiro is a handheld percussion instrument that was most likely invented and used the Taino people, a large indigenous group who lived in pre-Columbian areas such as the Bahamas, Lesser Antilles, and Greater Antilles. It’s a percussion instrument you’re likely to hear in a variety of music these days, especially Latin American and Cuban music. The güiro is a simple but effective scraping instrument with a distinct sound.

A hollowed-out gourd is used to make the traditional güiro. As a result, sizes and shapes may vary. The outside of the gourd is carved with grooves, which produce a sound similar to a ratchet or gragger, a traditional Jewish noisemaker, when a wooden stick is scraped across the grooves. Scraping the stick across the grooves in the güiro, in other words, produces a series of fine clicking noises that meld together. Movement can be up or down across the grooves, fast or slow, depending on the music and tempo.

The Benedictine monk Fray igo Abbad y Lasierra described numerous instruments used in Puerto Rican music, including the tambourine and maracas, in the first written descriptions of the güiro explorers. The instrument has far outstretched its native origins since that description. Many examples can be found in classical music, such as Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, as well as many modern rock songs. R.E.M. used it on their 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and the album jacket praised it. The güiro’s sounds can also be heard in the classic 1964 hit Under the Boardwalk, and if you listen to Latin American dance music like salsa and mambo, you’ll be familiar with the instrument.

Güiro may not be made with gourds in modern versions. Plastic, fiberglass, wood, and metal are all used as examples. Some versions have a handle, which makes them easier to hold, while others, particularly those made of gourds, may not. Percussion instruments are a fun way to teach children about music and rhythm, and they can be found for less than $20 US Dollars (USD). The accompanying stick is commonly referred to as a scraper, and it’s a good idea to make sure your güiro comes with one. This instrument is also available in wood in the shape of a fish, and many people refer to it as a fish.