Can castanets play as fast as notated here? enter image description here

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    Did you mean to give the tempo in quarter notes, when the time signature is 3/8? Not eighth notes (no question, plenty slow enough) or dotted eighths (probably too fast)? Commented Jun 15 at 13:10
  • @AndyBonner - Well, my music editor is playing it ecxactly how I want it. Sorry, I think I should have set the tempo by specifyinh the eighth note (1/8 note) being equal to 60 BPM, instead. Do you think it's okay for castanets to play those patterns at that speed?
    – brilliant
    Commented Jun 15 at 13:23
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    @brilliant Metronome markings should always be consistent with the bar duration: in this case eighths or dotted quarters. You wouldn't write the tempo for 2/4 notes in a 3/4 meter, right? Using quarter notes for a 3/8 meter is extremely unintuitive, and requires two passages to players: get the tempo for quarters, then derive that of eighths to properly understand the bar duration. If you play along with a metronome with that reference duration, you'll end up having every other bar without the "click" on its down beat, which is obviously confusing. Note that, coincidentally, the rhythm above » Commented Jun 15 at 16:42
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    @brilliant does make sense with such a metronome subdivision, as the first note of each group is always on the second click while the last is on the third. Without seeing the rest of the score, it may be possible that, in fact, the piece is in 3/4, and if that's the case you should reconsider the meter for the whole piece. If, instead, it actually is 3/8, then change the metronome marking. Be aware, though, that if quarters are at 120, eighths are at 240, not 60. For such speeds, it makes more sense to just use the bar tempo: use the dotted quarter symbol as equal to 80. Commented Jun 15 at 16:42
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    Short answer: yes. However the technique is complex and requires a perfect left hand - right hand coordination; search in youtube for "How to Play Castanets Part One" (and two) by Cerbino Flamenco to get an idea.
    – Jürgen
    Commented Jun 18 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


It is playable, but it's close to being too fast.

Professional drummers and percussionists are able to sustain single stroke rolls with sixteenths at 200~210BMP for some time, and a bit faster for shorter passages. But playing a controlled rhythm like that at those speeds using sticks or with finger/hands on a relatively hard surface is simpler than doing the same with castanets:

  • hand held castanets require proper mastering of the technique; it may be easier to find percussionists that actually know that technique in territories in which castanets are part of a cultural heritage that is currently kept alive (typically, Spain), but it's quite uncommon for anywhere else; it's also not a requirement even for professional orchestral musicians;
  • handled castanets allow faster speeds, but have quite limited control on their rebounds, thus making the rhythm above difficult to perform accurately: even after proper practice, some unwanted "clicks" may just happen at the end of each phrase; playing by "bouncing" a handled castanet between a hand and the player's thigh may provide some more control, but some rebounds may still remain; they are normally preferred for "rolls", or rhythms that do not require absolute accuracy;
  • mounted castanets are the common choice for controlled rhythms, but such machines don't always have the right tension allowing very fast and accurate rhythms; even if they normally provide some mechanism to change the tension, and in some cases they are played using mallets, accuracy may not always be as wanted for the speed you indicate; their sound is also a bit different and somehow "muffled" than using hand held or handled castanets, because the blocking surface used to keep them attached to the machine limits their sounds to some extent, and they're also normally placed on a stand instead of being played "in air", and directed toward the musician, not the audience;

Note that the demisemiquavers (thirty-second notes) at that speed are almost next to an unmeasured roll (tremolo). If you don't care that much about the precision of those notes, then there should be no particular problem in using mounted castanets: players will try to play all four of them, but in some occasions they may just resort to a triplet or a "fake" five stroke roll, made of a triplet and a flam, which is less accurate but slightly simpler and less physically demanding.

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    Very informative amswer. Thank you very much! Given what you've written, I think I will change to something simpler.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jun 15 at 23:11
  • @brilliant You're welcome! Consider that changing the part may not be necessary, but it also depends on the intended target level of musicians. If this has to be played by beginners or musicians in their pre-professional studying cycle, you may opt for a roll/tremolo (or a sixteenths triplet) instead of the thirty-seconds. If there's no such requirement, you can leave it as it is, and any more advanced player will either try to play it (and probably succeed) or use the "tricks" written above. This would be acceptable even for common pieces, as some level of approximation in castanets is » Commented Jun 16 at 13:34
  • @brilliant » quite common, also because it's part of the traditional sound of castanets, where even single strokes are often played with two pairs of castanets at the same time, especially when accented. What you should probably consider is how important are those thirty seconds and their precision to you. If you don't really care that much, using a roll/tremolo would be better anyway, mostly because it would be more readable. Besides, if you use the actual tremolo notation (an eighth with two diagonal strokes), that would be also correct for both measured and unmeasured rolls. Finally, » Commented Jun 16 at 13:40
  • @brilliant » remember that most percussion don't have sustain and their duration is traditionally written to accommodate both writing and reading: writing a sixteenth noted followed by an identical pause would be the same as writing an eighth. You could rewrite the even bars of the excerpt above as two sixteenth followed by an eighth note and the following pause: the acoustic result would be identical, it would be "shorter" to write, and most importantly much simpler to read. Commented Jun 16 at 13:43
  • This is just an incredible piece of advice, which I even feel I don't deserve. You, in fact, have answered many of my questions that I had, but was kind of reluctant to ask about castanets. Thank you very much. I will definitely follow your suggestion to switch to a simpler notation in those parts where the precision in the peice is not that important. Thanks again!
    – brilliant
    Commented Jun 16 at 15:13

At crotchet being 0.5 sec, that will put quavers at 0.25 of a sec. Or 4 notes per second.

So the semiquavers will come out at twice that speed, 8 per second. Still not too fast.

Then we move onto demi-semiquavers, at twice that speed. Bearing in mind that the two castanets are played with each hand in turn, rather like a single stroke drum roll, the speed shown is nowhere near too fast.

This will apply to hand held castanets, handled castanets, and mounted castanets, which will be closest to the aforementioned drumsticks performing single stroke rolls.


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