The Percussion family is probably the oldest section within the orchestra.
It is a wide diverse group of instruments which are played in a number of different
ways. Of these the Drum is one of the earliest and comes in all shapes and
sizes throughout the world. The family includes any instrument that can be
struck, beaten with a stick/hammer, scraped or shaken. The size of the instruments
varies hugely. On one hand we have the complex Piano with 88 keys, and on the
other we have a Triangle which is a made of a simple steel rod and hit
with another piece of rod. Shaken instruments like the Tambourine or Rattle
are very easy to use and tend to be more common in an orchestra than a scraped
Cymbals are thin metal discs which are clashed
together or beaten with a soft drumstick to make a sound. They come in varying
sizes from small finger cymbals to very large deafening ones.
The drum is made from having a skin sometimes plastic stretched over a wooden,or
metal frame. It comes in all different shapes and sizes and is played throughout
the world. Several of the popular drums are the Snare, Bass, Timpani,and Congo
drums. Their characteristics are as follows:
This is a cylindrical drum with a skin stretched
across the top and wires or strings strung across the bottom. When the drum
is struck it is the noise made from the strings which gives it it's special
- Congo Drum
This is a tall barrel shaped drum, african
- Bass Drum
The Bass drum again is cylindrical in shape
but has a skin stretched over both ends. It is the largest drum used by an
orchestra.It has a low and deep sound.
These are sometimes called Kettledrums.
They are made form copper and look like an inverted bowl or copper kettle.
A skin is stretched over the top and has it's tension controlled by a series
of screws on the rim of the drum. By controlling the tension, a timpani drum
can have varying pitches and is therefore played in pairs, or even sometimes
The tambourine is made from a circular wooden hoop with a parchment skin on
one end and with metal jingles around the outside of the hoop. It is played
either by shaking or by tapping it with the fingers or knuckles.
The Triangle is made from a steel rod which is bent in the shape of a triangle.
It is struck with another small rod and has a very clear sound.
The piano is one of the largest instruments found in an orchestra and is made
in a number of different styles from the Upright Piano to the Grand Piano. Piano
is an abbreviation of Pianoforte which means it is an instrument that can
be played quietly (Piano) or loud (Forte). In Grand Pianos the strings are
horizontal and in line with the keys, whilst in Upright Pianos the strings
run perpendicularly to the keys. It is often seen as a good instrument for
children to play as there is an immediate sound once a key is struck, and a
familiarity with all the notes can be acquired as they are all there on the
The Xylophone and Glockenspiel
The Xylophone is a set of wooden bars which have been stuck to a frame with
each having a different size and pitch. The bars are struck with a stick .
The Glockenspiel is like the Xylophone but is made from steel plates and is
played with little hammers.
There are many other percussion instruments ranging from Castanets, Cow Bells
up to the dramatic Tubular Bells, and it would be impossible to mention all
of them on this page.
To find out more about learning how to play these instruments visit the Starting to Learn section of our site.
Information on maintenance or repairs is available in the Maintenance and Tuning section of our site.