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Percussion Instruments

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 instrument.

CymbalsThe Cymbals

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

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:

  • The Snare DrumSnare Drum
    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 sound.
  • Congo Drum
    This is a tall barrel shaped drum, african in origin.
  • 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.
  • The Timpani DrumTimpani Drum
    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 more.

The Tambourine

The TambourineThe 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 TriangleThe Triangle

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 PianoThe Piano

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 keyboard.

The XylophoneThe 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.


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