Parrandas and Musical Instruments from Puerto Rico


Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • Identify Puerto Rican musical instruments
  • Discuss what parrandas are, where they take place and why

· Learn new Spanish vocabulary related to Puerto Rican music

  • Create replicas of Puerto Rican instruments

    Materials: Overheads with pictures from Puerto Rico, tape or CD with Puerto Rican music, and instruments such as: cuatro, guitar, maracas, tambor, güiro and pandereta. If the instruments are not available, use pictures. To make a maraca each student will need a white paper cup, a popsicle stick, beans, colored markers, colored paper and tape. To make a güiro each student will need an empty metal soup can without the label, and a fork.

    Activities: Vocabulary activity, making instruments, and having a parranda

    I. Introduction (Recommended time: 3-4 min.)

    A. Identify Puerto Rico on a map. Make sure they understand that Puerto Rico is an island and what does that mean (Show document entitled “Map of Puerto Rico”).

    · Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean located to the South of Florida and to the East of the Dominican Republic. It is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

    B. As you mention country facts, prompt students to ask questions or make comments:

    · Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. - the people that live there are U.S. citizens but do not have the right to vote for the president of the U.S.

    · Many Puerto Ricans are of Spanish descent, and many have some Indian and/or African ancestry, making them mestizo. African-Americans and Asians also live there.

    • Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and English.

    · The climate is warm and mild all year round. It is humid in the summer (Show pictures of Puerto Rico).

    II. Vocabulary activity (Recommended time: 3-5 min.)

    Give students flash cards with the new Spanish words (one word per card). After reviewing the words together (their pronunciation and meaning), the students will be asked to hold up their word when it is used in the lesson. ( Depending on how old the children are, they may need to be reminded about their word especially if it comes up much later on in the lesson).

    Spanish vocabulary list:

    Parranda- group of musicians and singers who play special holiday music

    Jíbaro - the type of music derived from the rural areas of Puerto Rico.

    Maraca- rattle

    Cuatro- small guitar of four single strings. The Spanish guitar with six strings entered Puerto Rico in 1516 and underwent several changes, owing to the lack of native materials and craftsmen to produce authentic instruments. Of the derivatives, namely the requinto, bordonua, tiple and cuatro, only the cuatro is used with any frequency today[1].

    Pandereta - tambourine

    Tambor - drum

    Güiro - güiro is undoubtedly native to the island (a Taíno instrument). It is a hollowed gourd with ridges cut into one side. A wire fork is rhythmically dragged over the ridges to produce an unusual percussion sound[2].

    III. Puerto Rican Parrandas (Recommended time: 5 min.)

    Introduce student to the topic by asking them if they have ever been Christmas caroling. Ask them to talk about it. What happens when they go caroling? What do they think happens? Use this to transition into the Puerto Rican caroling tradition which is different than the U.S. traditions.

    • What are parrandas?

    Parrandas are a caroling party that occurs in Puerto Rico at Christmas, usually on Christmas Eve.

    • Where did the parrandas come from?

    Puerto Rico is made up of three main groups of people; the Spanish, the Africans, and the Taíno Indians. The parrandas come from the music developed by the Africans and those who lived in the rural areas of Puerto Rico during the 16th through 18th centuries. This music is called jíbara. Parrandas originated when the Puerto Ricans who sang and played jíbara began to travel around from town to town, imitating the military bands that marched around the country.[3]

    Parrandas are also said to have come from the Christian religious tradition of imitating the journey of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, as they knocked on many doors looking for a place to stay the night that Jesus was born.

    • What happens during a parranda?

    One family decides to visit a neighbor or friend’s house to surprise them by singing a Christmas song. The songs they sing are called aguinaldos. They sing very loudly to try to get their neighbors and friends to come to the door and let them in. They do this even if everyone is already asleep!

    Often the carolers are accompanied by friends who play Puerto Rican musical instruments (Show pictures of Parrandas). Some popular instruments are the güiros (this instrument is made from a gourd!), the triangle, and maracas. They also sometimes play the pandereta, el cuatro, or even el tambor. (Suggestion: take time to show the instruments available, whether they are real or in pictures. Let students ask questions, and if time permits, allow them to pass the instruments around)

    Next, the people inside come to the door and happily let the carolers in. (Explain to the students that the people inside never get mad or disturbed because in Puerto Rico it is a tradition. It is something that happens every year and something that everyone loves to do). They then give the carolers some treats. Some dulces (sweets) that are very popular in Puerto Rico include rice with coconut, papaya sweets, donuts, marzipan, and nougat from Spain[4].

    After the carolers have eaten their fill of treats, they move on to another house. And guess who comes along? The people who live in the house where the parranda just occurred! Now the group is bigger and they will move along to another house, making the party bigger and bigger and lasting long into the night and even until the next morning! At the very end of the parranda party, all of the carolers will go to one person’s house and that person will serve them a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas Day breakfast, el sopón, a thick chicken and rice stew. [5]

    IV. Make your own instruments (Recommended time: 8-10 min.)

    Instruct students to create their own Puerto Rican instruments. Use as a guide the document “Make your own Parranda” from the Children’s Museum of Boston. Each student should have either the materials to make a maraca or the materials to make the güiro.

    Give instructions on how to make los güiros y las maracas ( Suggestion: divide the class in half; one half can make güiros; the other half can make maracas).

    • To make the maraca:

    Ask students to decorate a plain white paper cup. Insert a popsicle stick handle in the bottom. Put some beans in the cup and seal the top with paper and tape. Shake!

    • To make the güiro:

    Make sure the metal can does not have a label or sharpen edges. Strike the ribs with a fork!

    V. Make your own parranda! (Recommended time: 4 min)  

    After they have finished making their instruments, the students will have their own parranda. Play a parranda song (suggestion: CD Musicanto, song #3 “El pajarito”, Disco Club Venezolano, Caracas 1995) and let the students go around the classroom pretending to visit neighbors and playing their instruments along with the music.

    VI. Final questions or comments

    Allow students to ask any questions or make comments about Puerto Rico, its musical instruments and music.


    Menard, Yalerie (2000). The Latino Holiday Book. Marlowe and Company: New York.

    Rodriguez-Morales, Luis F. (2001). Folk Instruments of Puerto Rico: Their Origins, Roots, and Influence in Puerto Rican Culture. Princeton, NJ. Online article:

    Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance and Cultural Center:

    CD: Musicanto, song #3 “El pajarito”, Disco Club Venezolano, Caracas 1995.

    [3] Morales, Luis F. Rodriguez. Folk Instruments of Puerto Rico: Their Origins, Roots, and Influence in Puerto Rican Culture. Princeton, NJ: 2001. Online at

    [4] Menard, Valerie. The Latino Holiday Book. New York: Marlowe & Company, 2000. pp. 142-3.

    [5] Menard, Valerie. The Latino Holiday Book. New York: Marlowe & Company, 2000. pp. 142-3.