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Although no written music has survived, archaeologists have excavated musical instruments and painted and carved depictions of the ancient Maya that show how music was a complex element of societal and religious structure.
Most of the music itself disappeared after the dissolution of the Maya courts following the Spanish Conquest.
The Maya used many different types of flutes, some much like modern flutes and others very different.
A common type of Mayan flute had a goitre chamber on the side which was used to deflect the air going into the instrument from taking a straight path.
Particularly the drums, whether the slit-drum, the kettle drum, or the high wooden drum, appear with specific rhythmical motifs to have initiated the musical performances, or, as Gerónimo de Mendieta states in writing about the native music of New Spain, "when the dancers hear that the kettle drums [atabales] start, they understand by their tone the song and the dance, and then start it." According to Cogolludo, the holpop was not only "the principal singer who sets the key and teaches what is necessary to sing," but also the keeper of the musical instruments, first of all the [horizontal] tunkul drums.Template 34 of the Dresden Codex depicts the flute as an instrument associated with a fertility or thanksgiving ritual.Mayan percussion commonly consisted of drums and rattles.Two of the three surviving pre-Columbian Mayan manuscripts in European libraries discuss the kayum, an upright single-headed cylindrical or kettle-shaped drum, played barehanded.The top and bottom panels in side 63 (34) of the Dresden Manuscript depict deities playing drums whose clay frames look like two arms of a candelabra.
The arms are covered by a tied hide, and the base joining the two arms is filled with water, enabling the player to adjust the pitch of the drum.