The Musical Rainstick

by Danielle S.


Rainsticks are musical and ceremonial instruments that have been used by various tribal groups from ancient times to the present day. Their name is descriptive of the soothing and soul-reaching rain-like sound that the instruments produce when held by either end, allowing small pebbles inside to trickle down through sharp thorns that have been pounded into the interior of the stick in a spiral formation. Rainsticks are used in ceremonies to bring badly-needed rain to regions of the Atacama Desert.

Rainsticks are made from wood skeletons of dead Quisco or Copado cactus plants. This wood is called Normata. No living plants are used. The cacti grow in large quantities in desert areas of northern Chile and die after about 70 years. The exterior thorns and flesh then fall off leaving the skeleton.

Rainsticks are a widely recognized folk art item. They have become very popular for entertainment, enjoyment and relaxation for people. They have recently gained wide-spread use as percussion instruments, and are now used by leading music entertainers, as well as school music departments and music groups.

Rainsticks have also become a prominent part of back-to-nature/basics events, drum-ins, male bonding movement activities, pow-wows and ceremonies, self realization and stress reduction programs. Because of their visual appeal, they are used by many people as an accessory in homes for decoration. For many they are a toy and conversation piece. For everyone they can help make life more enjoyable.


To maximize the length and evenness of the rain-like sound, hold the rainstick at about a 60 degree angle and slowly rotate the stick, allowing the crushed stones to roll and trickle down over the spiral formation.