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How To Choose Percussion Instruments

Congratulations! You are about to buy your first Percussion Instrument...

How can you figure out which Percussion instrument you should purchase? Given the numerous options and the wide range of prices, it’s essential to have all the right information to guide you. We trust that our Beginner’s Guide To Learning Percussion will be beneficial for you.

How To Choose A Percussion Instrument

Snare Drum

Types of Snare drums

Standard snare drums are most commonly made of either wood or metal, but there are also plastic versions. 

The depth of the drum can vary from 3 inches to 6.5 inches. This makes a big difference in the sound of the drum. The bigger the depth, the ‘beefier’ the sound. Generally, the 3-inch drums (piccolo snare) are for specific styles, whereas the drums that are between 5 and 6.5 inches deep are much more widely used.

How To Choose Percussion Instrument


What sort of budget do you have? Snare drums range considerably in price from £30 to £1,500. An instrument made for a professional isn’t at all necessary for a beginner. However, if at all possible, don’t go for the cheapest option as they are likely to be unreliable in different ways.

A snare drum for £100 will get you a long way If you have a solid technique.

Extra costs to consider are replacing the heads of the drum. Typically, they should be changed every six months but this depends on how much you are playing it. New batter heads (the side you hit!) cost around £15.

If you are of school age, chat with your school or music service about the possibility of purchasing through them which can save you the VAT!

Purchasing a snare drum second-hand is of course another option. If the heads look worn, don’t worry, these can easily be replaced! Do check that the snare lever still operates smoothly and stays in position once set.

Don’t forget a snare drum stand!

You have two options here, tall or short! Your decision should take into account how tall you are and also whether or not you would like to play it sitting down or standing up.

If sitting down or you’re not very tall you will probably want a standard ‘kit’ snare drum stand like this or this one.

Or if you would like to sit on a tall seat or stand up then you will need a ‘concert’ snare stand just like this.

Sticks, cases and other accessories

Although it is only one drum, the snare can create an array of sounds depending on how we play it and what we use to play it. Not only are there the standard wood drumsticks but also: brushes (metal or plastic), felt mallets and hot rods (wooden or plastic) to name a few!

You may want to dampen the sound of the drum depending on how much it rings once you’ve struck it. You can go as expensive as you like with handmade leather weights to put on the head, but a simple duster will do the trick just as well.

If you need to transport or store your drum in between practicing/performing then I certainly recommend buying a case. The most protective options are either a hard case or a material bag lined with synthetic fleece.

Tuned Percussion

The first thing to think about is which instrument is best for you, as there are a few options. These are a glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba and vibraphone.

When choosing a tuned percussion instrument for a beginner-intermediate player, a 4-octave xylophone is arguably the best choice. This is mainly down to the size of the instrument. Going with this option depends entirely on your budget, but it should be seen as a long term investment. 

Although initially, we start learning only a few notes, by the time you reach grade 5 standard, you need 4 octaves to be able to play the standard repertoire. 

There are xylophones with and without resonators. These are the ‘tubes’ underneath the notes that increase the resonance. 

Generally, the budget options use lower quality wood for the note bars, which does affect the quality of the sound and how much resonance you get out of them. 

Types of Xylophone

There are many considerations when choosing your xylophone. How much space do you have? What is your budget? Does it need to be easily collapsed and transported? Here are the main types, including examples of each:

Budget Tabletop

How To Choose Percussion Instrument


How To Choose Percussion Instrument

Budget Free Standing

How To Choose Percussion Instrument

Free Standing

How To Choose Percussion Instrument


How To Choose Percussion Instrument

Timpani, or less formally known as Timps!

How To Choose A Percussion Instrument

Types of Timpani

These can be categorised by either pedal or hand-tuned timpani. This refers to the way we change the note we would like to play. You can either adjust the pitch using a foot pedal or turn tension rods situated around the circumference of the head.

The bowl of the drum is either copper or fibreglass.

The advantage of copper timps is that they produce a richer tone. However, they are more expensive and heavier than fibreglass.

WHD are an all-round great option for entry-level timpani. They’re really well priced, fairly lightweight and easily portable.

The first choice for some of the world’s leading principle timpanists in the Elite range from Premier. Of course, they have a suitably high price tag for the quality on offer.

Timpani Heads

Originally these would have been made using calfskin, and some players still insist on it! Plastic heads are now more widely used, as they are less susceptible to moisture and heat fluctuations. Plastic heads are also considerably cheaper.

Timpani Mallets

Generally, the main part of the mallet – the shaft, will be made of either wood or bamboo. Bamboo is the better option here, it’s lighter and stronger. If you go for this option, do check that the bamboo is straight without any kinks.

The heads of the stick also vary, there are felt, flannel, leather, and wood and some with different cores. For a beginner-intermediate player, a set of two or three felt mallets (soft, medium and hard) will set you up well.

High-quality retailers such as Gear4Music offer a selection of great value Timpani mallets. For more luxury options we recommend both Timpani-sticks and b-mallets.

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How To Choose Percussion Instruments - Summary

Choosing the right percussion instrument has to feel right for you, both in budget and having the right one. Another option that you have is that you can reach out to our amazing community of musicians who are always ready to lend a hand so you can pick out the right instrument for you. 

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