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Encyclopedia > Percussion

Percussion instruments are played by being struck, shaken, rubbed or scraped. They are perhaps the oldest form of musical instruments. Some percussion instruments play not only rhythm, but also melody and harmony.


Most percussion instruments have a distinct tone; even drums are tuned. However, a distinction is usually made based on whether the instrument can play a definite pitch or not.

The timpani, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, bell, tubular bells, crotales and glockenspiel all play a definite pitch. The snare drum, bass drum, afuche, castanets, claves, cowbell, cymbal, doyra, giro, maracas, mendoza, ratchet, spoons, temple blocks, tom-tom, timbales, triangle, vibraslap, washboard, whip and wood block do not in general. However, some percussionists tune drum heads to specific pitches when recording albums or in preparation for specific composer requirements. Gongs can be tuned or untuned – the most familiar type of gong in the west, the chau gong (sometimes called a tam-tam), is untuned. Tuned cymbals exist but are rare.

The two major categories are membranophones, which add timbre to the sound of being struck, such as drums, and idiophones, which sound of themselves, such as the triangle. The tambourine is both membranophone and idiophone, having both a head and jingles.

Names for percussionists

The general term for a musician who plays percussion instruments is percussionist.

Percussionists are also called upon to play a variety of instruments which are not percussive or are not generally thought of as percussion instruments. These include the lion's roar, wind machines, whistles and duck calls, air raid sirens, doorbells, car horns, pistols, typewriters and the glass harmonica.

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Tuned percussion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (193 words)
Tuned percussion is a term meant to differentiate certain percussion instruments that are meant to produce a definite pitch from the myriad others that are not.
The term tuned percussion is also used to refer to the wider class of all percussion instruments which produce a definite pitch.
Strictly speaking, the piano and the celesta are also tuned percussion instruments, because of the fact that their sound is produced by percussive means.
Caribbean Percussion Traditions (1369 words)
Percussion is a crucial component of the religion, in that it is the vehicle through which devotees communicate with the orishas (deities).
Orisha percussion generally accompanies singing in which deities are praised and invited to descend upon their devotees.
Another type of Indo-Caribbean percussion is the tassa ensemble, which includes conical tassa drums, a double-headed bass drum and a jhanj (a large pair of cymbals).
  More results at FactBites »



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