samba whistle

Also:       apito      tri-tone samba whistle      

Title: Percussions d’Amerique Latine--Bateria at Salvador de Bahia; performers not identified. Label: Arion. Format: CD. Catalogue#: ARN 64023. Track: 10.

Contextual Associations

The samba whistle is a duct flute aerophone of Brazil. Its strongest association is with the baterias (percussion sections) of Rio de Janiero samba schools, and with Afro-Brazilian Carnival music from Bahia in the northeast (see Samba Ensemble for Carnival from Brazil for general information about this context). It might today also be encountered at football/soccer matches in Brazil, or wherever Brazilian teams travel, as part of informal percussion groups stimulating fan excitement.


The body of this whistle is a short, stopped cylindrical tube with a fipple at its blowing end and a hole through its wall with a sharp edge (called a lip or labium) against which the airstream is directed to produce sound.  The resonance chamber of the primary tube is quite short, only about .7 inch long. It is intersected by a second cylindrical tube, which has a fingerhole at each of its ends. This intersecting tube is mostly filled with a loose wooden pipe. When an airstream is directed through the duct and against the labium it produces a standing wave in the resonance space the pitch of which is high but not definite. By opening and closing the fingerholes on the side of the instrument, the relative pitch of the whistle changes slightly. The wooden pipe disrupts the standing wave and creates a very fast rattling-like articulation.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player hold the whistle in one hand with the labium hole facing upwards, the tip of the fipple end of the primary tube between their lips, and the thumb and one finger tip of the holding hand operating the fingerholes. The whistle produces a high, shrill sound, the quality of which is subtly varied by opening and closing the fingerholes. In the context of the samba baterias, the whistle is played by the group leader to signal transitions and stops (listen to audio example).


Whistles of various designs date back millennia, but it is difficult to pinpoint the date of origin of the samba whistle. Given that the regional Brazilian traditions it is now used for date back only to the later 19th century, that era might be taken as a reasonable earliest date for the instrument. The highly mechanized means of manufacture evident in the instrument pictured here (designed and made by the American company Latin Percussion) suggests it is of even more recent origin, although other sorts of whistles could have been used before it came to the market.

Bibliographic Citations

Crook, Larry. 2005. Brazilian Music: Northeastern Traditions and the Heartbeat of a Modern Nation. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Fryer, Peter. 2000. Rhythms of Resistance: African Musical Heritage in Brazil. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha. 2009. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Reily, Suzel Ana. 1998. "Brazil: Central and Southern Areas." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.2. ed. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 300-322.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: South America

Nation: Brazil

Formation: Afro-Brazilian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.221.422 aerophone--vessel flute with duct: with two or more fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with closed distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, indirectly blown against with aid of duct

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: not used

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length/shape of standing wave within single cavity with fingerholes


2.3 in. length 2.1 in. width

Primary Materials



Latin Percussion



Entry Author

Roger Vetter