Bells bells bells!

Someone say cowbells Gon bops bells kiillllin

Bells bells bells!

I cant get enough of those bells! This next workshop deals with…The famous and wonderfully colorful sound of the cowbell. Learning the function of bells is a very important step in your journey into Latin music. In the U.S. some people call them cowbells.  “Campana” as it is known in the Latin world simply means “Bell”.  Well it seems that there is a quite a bit to know about these groovy instruments, perhaps a bit more than you imagined. The addition of the many types of bells on the market today means that you can add a wonderful new color to your playing arsenal. So lets look into the world of bells for a moment.

Ever wonder why there are different sizes of bells? Well its not just for looks:-) Each size has a different function and sound to it. Many Latin styles of  music are defined by the bells and their parts believe it or not. It is especially so in Afro Cuban music.
Lets review the why and how of the different types of bells used in the Salsa style.

From Left to right.

Cha Cha Bell, Contra campana, Coro bell,

Someone say cowbells Gon bops bells kiillllin

Someone say cowbells? Gon bops bells kiillllin!!


Bongo bell / Coro bell–
In this photo, the first bell on the right…we have the famous “Bongo bell”. It has that name because usually the Bongosero (Bongo player) plays a hand held version of this bell. It is also known as “Coro bell”.   Coro means “chorus” in Spanish. The bell gets this name because it is played predominantly on the choruses of songs. On the Drumset, It is typically mounted on the bass drum but I have seen many players mount it on different places.

You will notice the pitch of the bell is high. This is a most important aspect in choosing a Coro bell. You want to make sure its got a real nice singing ring to it. The more it sings the better! Do not put tape inside the bell! There is a reason it sounds like that. Its suppose to be ringing because you have to cut through an entire band at full blast:-) Lots of guys put tape inside the bell to muffle it, but its better to just learn how to choose your bells and to learn how to play them properly . If there is tape in your Coro bell, you probably have the wrong bell for the type of music you are trying to play. In Afro Cuban music, especially salsa, people love to hear that super nice strong bell come in and take over the groove.  So get a good coro bell and make sure it can be heard by playing it properly.
When you play the Coro bell there are 2 strokes that you should keep in mind.
1) The body stroke.
These strokes are played in general toward the center of the body and not to close to the mounting bracket. This gives you a nice balanced sound.
2) The mouth stroke.
The mouth stroke is played by hitting the neck of the stick right on the mouth. This stroke involves a downward motion pictured here.

“Contra Campana”
On the left of  our photo we have the Contra Campana. (Larger Bell)
“Contra” means against. “Campana” means Bell – The Contra Campana is the bell that is sometimes played “against” the coro bell part.  Now, when I say against, what I mean is “with.” Take the analogy of a football game. This team –against that team- …but they are really playing the game together right? Same here with the bells. They play together.
The Contra Campana is different than the Coro Bell in that it has a lower pitch. Very important. When you buy a set of bells, you must keep this in mind.  There are many types of Contra Campana.  Some with a shallow or longer mouth, and others with simply a large mouth.
This can help the bell get its lower pitch. In general this bell is played on the body. The pattern involves a feel that is very particular and beautiful. This feel cannot be written down on paper. You have to check out how the cats are playing this pattern and try to emulate it until it’s in your hands.

Cha Cha Bell

Finally, in your “Salsa set up” you will need a “Cha Cha bell.” – This is the small bell on the left in the  picture.

Someone say cowbells Gon bops bells kiillllin

The Cha cha bell is the smallest and the highest pitched bell in your set up. It is used mostly in the Cha cha style, but is also used in a style called “Pachanga.”  And can be used in others as well. The cha cha bell is mostly played on the mouth. Sometimes players will give it a particular sound by holding the stick down on the mouth, for a drier sound. This is very common in Cha cha.

I use it a lot on a pedal clamp. It frees up my hands to do other things on the kit.

Clave Left foot

Clave Left foot

So here we have some basic information about bells. We have explored some basic patterns here on the blog as well. Learning all the bell patterns to different styles can be a daunting and “research heavy” task. So just take one step at a time and enjoy the process of adding these instruments into your set up.  I hope you enjoyed this very important topic. For more details and very specific instructions check out the rest of my Afro Cuban blog postings.


Here you will find a link to beautiful bells by Gonbops Percussion!!

[fancy_link link=”” variation=”orange”]Gon Bops Percussion – Bells[/fancy_link]

Con Alma…
Phil M.




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