cowbells instrument

How to Play the Cowbell

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The cowbell is a percussion instrument that produces sounds solely by the use of its body as a vibration without using membrane or strings. We can find the effect of the cowbell in various genres of music such as salsa and occasionally popular music.

There are many cowbells for sale in the market, but first let’s look at its history and how they work.


The cowbell was initially created as an animal tracker; most herdsmen use the cowbell to track down and identify their roaming animals. It is placed around the animal’s neck in such a way that when the animals move, the bells ring.

The cowbell is not only used on cows as the name implies, other animals use it as well. Though, it is called the cowbell because it is mostly used on cattle.

From an animal tracker to a brilliant percussion instrument, the cowbell is creative tool everyone especially percussionists should have.

Types of cowbell instrument

There are two kinds of this percussive metal instrument; the clapper cowbell also known as the tuned cowbells and the clapperless cowbells.

You can easily find the clapper bells in classical music while clapperless cowbells are used in Go-go music (popular music sub genre related with funk) and the Latin-America music.  The clapperless cowbell looks like the Agogo bells (West African musical instrument).

How to hold the cowbell

As mentioned earlier, the cowbell is used on animals. So how do we handle or hold this percussion instrument?

The best way to hold a cowbell is holding it with your non-dominant hand.  Furthermore, cow bells have a wide open end and a thinner closed end. To make your cowbell vibrate or ring freely, you need to hold the instrument on the tapered end.

Nonetheless, holding the cowbell varies for some types of music. In some music such as rock or Latin music, you need to hold the cowbell in the middle to produce a dead sound.

How to strike the cowbell

You can use a thick wooden drumstick to strike your cowbell. Although, professional players often use drumsticks specially made for the striking the cowbell (clave or bell beater) to get a deeper tone.

Steps on how hit the cowbell

Lift your drumstick or clave as the case may be above the cowbell and hit the closest side of the bell. To avoid hitting your fingers ensure the drumstick is in line with the cowbell and not across the bell from the side.

How to get different sounds with one cowbell

Above, we discussed the two types of cowbells; the clapper cowbell, and the clapperless cowbell. However, you can also manipulate your cowbell to give you the desired result irrespective of the size of the cowbell.

Here’s how it works;

To play a higher pitch, all you have to do is to strike the cowbell at the narrow section of the cowbell toward the top.

If you want to play a low sound, hit the cowbell on its open end, and you can get the middle sound by striking the center of your instrument.

As you practice these basic techniques, you get to explore the possibilities of this beautiful musical instrument.

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