huehuetl was considered so important that its name became synonymous for gatherings of musicians, whatever the instrument they played. These drums were usually made from the wood of the ahuehuete, a kind of cypress sometimes called a "drum tree". While huehuetls were sometimes made from clay or even precious metals, not many of those types survived the Conquest. The sides of the drums contain mystical symbols and the hollow wooden cylinders are supported by decoratively carved tripods. The bottoms of the drum cylinders are open, but the tops are covered by tightly stretched animal skins. These are struck with the fingers to produce several different tones according to how near or far from the center the fingers hit.
Tenochtilan (now Mexico City) which was the center of the Aztec universe.
tlalpanhuehuetl stood. Carved on the top and bottom sides of the drum are an eagle and the sun, both symbols of Huitzilopochtli. He moved across the sky during the day, keeping the darkness at bay and providing the light and warmth that allowed the crops to grow. According to Mexica beliefs, Huitzilopochtli had to be fed a constant diet of human blood in order to gain the strength to return each morning and thus keep the world intact. This fitted nicely with the Mexica's own appetite for warfare. Their conquests resulted in Mesoamerica's greatest and most powerful empire, at least until its destruction by the Spanish. In addition to wars of conquest, the Mexica also fought what they called "Flowery Wars." These conflicts were staged on a regular basis solely to capture enemy soldiers who could be sacrificed on Huitzilopochtli's altar atop the Templo Mayor. Thousands had their living hearts ripped out while the last sound they heard was the thunderous drumming of huehuetls and tlalpanhuehuetls.
chachayotes creates a rythmic noise of considerable volume. Imagine hundreds, or even thousands, dancing in the great plaza in front of the Templo Mayor. In addition to his chachayotes and penacho de plumas (feathered headdress), he wears a loincloth with the pattern of a jaguar's fur. Jaguars were another animal considered sacred throughout Mesoamerica. They are extremely powerful night hunters and the ancients believed that these qualities connected them to the forces of darkness and death. The two most important military cults of the Mexica (and the Toltecs before them) were the Eagle and the Jaguar warriors who dressed in costumes imitative of their totem creatures.
ritual use of actual human skulls themselves, was common in pre-hispanic civilizations. The ancients viewed death as another plane of existence, not oblivion. Further, they saw death as inextricably connected to life, i.e. another expression of the duality of the universe which includes day vs night, male vs female, cold vs hot, etc.
ayotl are several pieces of stone also used as musical instruments. These lithophones, called tehuehuetl, are made from volcanic stone slabs. The tehuehuetl are beaten with stone spheres to create a kind of hollow ringing sound.
"rainsticks" found in Central and South America, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa. Such instruments are given the name because they are hollow and filled with pebbles or seeds. When they are upended, the pellets inside cascade down the length of the interior. The resulting sound resembles falling rain striking leaves in the forest. The purpose of a rainstick is to encourage rain. It is possible, but not confirmed, that rainsticks may have made their way from Central or South America to the Aztec Empire.