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  • Writer's pictureNathan Coles

How To Play Tambourine in "Polovtsian Dances" by Alexander Borodin.

Updated: Mar 11

Black Swamp Artist, Paolo Cimmino, demonstrates tambourine techniques to perform Dance No. 8 from Alexander Borodin's Polovtsian Dances from the Opera, Prince Igor.

This lesson will be exclusively focused on Dance No. 8 of the opera.

Table of Contents:

Paolo is using an Aged Brass Double Row (S3TD) tambourine for this lesson.


Meet Your Instructor: Paolo Cimmino

Black Swamp Percussion Artist, Paolo Cimmino

Paolo Cimmino is a Black Swamp Artist and has contributed many performance and educational videos over the years.

After graduating in 1988, he began his career as a member of the San Carlo Theatre Orchestra of Naples, performing with them for twelve years. During that time he also studied ethnic music and jazz.

Currently, Paolo teaches percussion at G. Martucci Conservatoire in Salerno, frame drums and Principles of Ethnic Music at MusicAteneo of University in Salerno. He is invited regularly to give master classes throughout Europe in Spain, Croatia, Great Britain, Greece, including the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Franz Liszt Hochschule fur Musik in Weimar, Music Academy in Bijelovar, Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge The Purcell School Londra and of course in Italy - Trento, Fermo, Parma, Roma, Napoli, Bari etc

Paolo is the co-founder of “Società Italiana Tamburi a Cornice” and is continuously working to introduce the possibilities of frame drums to larger audiences

More information about Paolo can be found on his website.


Dance No. 8 (mm1-21)

Dance #8 (mm1-45)
Dance No.8 (mm1-45)

How to Play Tambourine Vertical Shake Strokes

The first technique used in this work is something we call the Vertical Shake Stroke. This may be known by other names, but for now this is how we will address this technique. This motion is one of the more instinctual ways of how to play the tambourine. Holding the instrument vertically, extended from your non dominant hand. Your dominant hand will strike the head of the tambourine opposite of where it is held.

vertical shake stroke

We must have the control of the arm, wrist, and fingers. These three elements must be in perfect harmony in order to have a fluid and relaxed sound. - Paolo Cimmino

This particular excerpt is in 6/8 time. To easily perform this technique, beat 1 of the measure will start with the tambourine striking your hand. The following 5 beats will be played by shaking the tambourine from left to right.

Vertical Shake Stroke
Note, the hand striking the tambourine is directly opposite of the hand holding the shell of the instrument.

Vertical Shake Stroke Variations

This shake stroke can also be achieved by rotating the wrist that is holding the tambourine to create the shake. The only difference is where the tambourine should be struck. Now that the instrument is rotating, move your striking hand to the bottom to meet the shell during rotation.

Vertical shake stroke variation
Note, the hand striking the tambourine is moved to the bottom area of the shell.


Dance No. 8 (mm29-45)

Dance #8 (mm29-45)
Dance No.8 (mm29-45)

Inverted Shake Strokes

This section of the work requires an interesting technique to achieve the notated ornamentations. Paolo uses the tambourine with the head facing downward and striking his fingers, as the tambourine moves upwards the jingles create an additional note to get a "galloping" effect.

Inverted Shake Stroke


Dance No. 8 (mm187-end)

Dance #8 (mm187-end)
Dance No.8 (mm187-end)

Inward Shake Stroke

The last stretch of this work features 4 bars of 5/8 time. Because of the odd meter Paolo uses the Inward Shake Stroke to strike both the front and backside of the tambourine to achieve the proper downbeat of each measure.

The first position will have the tambourine strike the palm of your hand as the downbeat. The remaining 4 beats will be played by shaking the tambourine with an even arm/wrist movement.

Inward Shake Stoke
Position 1

The second position will be striking the inside of the head or the shell of the tambourine. This is necessary because the 5/8 time signatures places the downbeat in an opposite position of our original downbeat.

Inward Shake Stroke
Position 2

Take this section slowly and get a feel for how to get evenly spaced shake strokes in between your downbeats.


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