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As regards instruments of percussion, a kind of drum deserves special notice on account of the ingenuity evinced in its construction. The Mexicans called it teponaztli. They generally made it of a single block of very hard wood, somewhat oblong square in shape, which they hollowed, leaving at each end a solid piece about three or four inches in thickness, and at its upper side a kind of sound-board about a quarter of an inch in thickness. In this sound-board, if it may be called so, they made three incisions; namely, two running parallel some distance lengthwise of the drum, and a third running across from one of these to the other just in the centre. By this means they obtained two vibrating tongues of wood which, when beaten with a stick, produced sounds as clearly defined as are those of our kettle drums. By making one of the tongues thinner than the other they ensured two different sounds, the pitch of which they were enabled to regulate by shaving off more or less of the wood. The bottom of the drum they cut almost entirely open.

The teponaztli was generally carved with various fanciful and ingenious designs. It was beaten with two drumsticks covered at the end with an elastic gum, called ule, which was obtained from the milky juice extracted from the ule-tree. Some of these drums were small enough to be carried on a string or strap suspended round the neck of the player; others, again, measured upwards of five feet in length, and their sound was so powerful that it could be heard at a distance of three miles. In some rare instances a specimen of the teponaztli is still preserved by the Indians in Mexico, especially among tribes who have been comparatively but little affected by intercourse with their European aggressors.

Musical Instruments
Written by Carl Engel
Published in 1875
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