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Top 5 tuned percussion instruments

Top 5 Tuned Percussion Instruments

Percussionists are often the butt of many jokes, but there are many different percussion instruments, honest! We are going to delve into the most common, top 5 tuned percussion instrument, which are some of the top 5 most mistakenly named! Keep on reading to find out what they look like, their inner workings, the music they produce and much more!

What is a tuned percussion instrument?

Tuned – or pitched – percussion is one of the categories within the percussion family. Those percussion instruments with a definite pitch. There is usually more than one pitch on these percussion instruments, meaning you can play melodies and harmony on them.

The opposite is an untuned percussion instrument that does not produce a definite pitch. Examples of these instruments are a bass drum, cymbal, triangle and drum kit.

Tuned percussion instruments

Tuned percussion includes a variety of instruments. They are each made of different materials, produce different sounds and you use different mallets on each instrument.

However, there is one big similarity. The layout of tuned percussion instruments (excluding the timpani) is exactly the same as the piano. Once a percussionist can play one of these instruments, they can make music on any of them easily.

Idiophones

Many percussion instruments are idiophones. An idiophone is an instrument where the material itself vibrates to create the initial sound.

Xylophones, glockenspiels

The xylophone is possibly the best-known member of the percussion family and originates from Africa. It is has wooden bars (also known as notes or keys) that have resonators (tubes) underneath. When played with a hard mallet it can produce a piercing sound, but with a softer mallet it produces a mellow sound.

Yamaha YX35G
Xylophone
Best instruments for Intermediate Players
  • Key Feature: Compact Size
  • Includes: Mallets & Dust Cover
8/10
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The glockenspiel is similar to the xylophone, the fundamental difference is that the notes on the instruments are made from metal and it is much smaller in size. This means the glockenspiel produces a much brighter and more pure sound.

It is particularly popular for use in school music education because it can come in a very small

Yamaha YG250D
Glockenspiel
Best All-Round Glockenspiel
  • Key Feature: High Carbon Steel Bars produce bright tones
  • Includes: Rectangular glockenspiel Case & Mallets
9/10
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Marimba

The marimba is a rich and warm instrument and is typically used for solo music. The bars are wooden and have resonators underneath. The large bars help giving the marimba its mellow character.

Here is a rather impressive arrangement of some music – Rimsky Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee played on the marimba with four mallets!

Top 5 Tuned Percussion Instruments

Aesthetically, the marimba is similar to the xylophone. The main difference is that the bars on the xylophone are much smaller, which gives the xylophone a more piercing sound.

Yamaha YM1430
Marimba
Best Intermediate Marimba
  • Key Feature: Yamaha Tuning Method
7/10
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Bells

Tubular Bells are also known as Chimes. They typically have a range of 1.5 octaves, are played with hard mallets and have a damping pedal so the percussionists can stop the bells from ringing. Their pitch is rarely used for melody, but instead they are used to add colour. Their sounds can be compared to Church Bells.

Tubular Bell Trivia! Despite the title ‘Tubular Bells’, Mike Oldfield’s iconic music album features very little of the instrument!

Yamaha YCH6018
Tubular Bells
Best for Professionals
  • Key Feature: Innovative Hanger Unit
9/10
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Timpani

Timpani are also known as kettle drums. They are large bowls that are usually made of copper, with a head stretched across the top. The percussionist can change the pitch of the drum by loosening or tightening the head by operating a pedal.

The timpani are most commonly played alongside the percussion section of an orchestra. They are very important as they support the tune, harmony and rhythm. There are typically four drums (32, 30, 28 and 25 inches). This is to allow the player to play more notes in quick succession more easily.

WHD Timpani Set
Best instruments for
Intermediate Players
  • Key Feature: Lightweight
  • Includes: Padded Covers and Mallets
7/10
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CONS

Other tuned percussion instruments

The vibraphone has a slightly different layout to the other percussion instruments. Another difference is that inside of its resonators are small electric fans. You can set the speed of the fans to different levels, which changes the duration of the sound. They are great instruments for playing chords as the sound can linger for a while.

Yamaha YV2030MS
Vibraphone
Best for Pit Work
  • Key Feature: Compact Design
  • Includes: Drive Unit & Power Supply
8/10
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The TedScore™:  8/10
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Quirkier percussion instruments include the: aluphone, famously played by Evelyn Glennie at the 2012 London Olympics. The kalimba, which is a series of small, narrow metal bars played with the fingers. And also the boomwhackers, one of the most accessible percussion instruments as it is simply a plastic tube made to a certain length which you can strike on any surface.

Top 5 tuned percussion instruments
Summary

I hope we have cleared up for you which percussion instruments are which! These top five percussion instruments are featured here because of their versatility and the range of sounds they can produce between them. They can be played by musicians in many genres of music. At the back of the orchestra, wind band, brass band, jazz band or down in the theatre pit, to name a few.

Ted's List

Best for Intermediate Players

Yamaha YX35G Xylophone

An established and trusted brand

Ted's List

Best for Pit Work

Yamaha YV2030MS Vibraphone

Swivel Pedal makes dampening from different positions easier

Ted's List

Best instruments for Intermediate Players

WHD Timpani Set

Come with high-quality Remo heads and is a great entry-level option

FAQ's

It is such a close call, but I would say the timpani. They have the edge over the other percussion instruments because they can support the melody, harmony and rhythm. The drum kit belongs to the untuned percussion instruments.

The timpani an percussion instrument that can be tuned to specific pitches. A pedal is used to change the pitch of the drum by loosening or tightening the head.

The tam tam is an untuned percussion instrument. It is a metal plate, usually larger than a cymbal which is suspended vertically. You play it with a mallet just below the centre, which depending on how hard you strike it, can create a loud, powerful splash of colour or the warmest, gentlest wave of sound.

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Sam Jowett
Sam is a first class graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. He has played for a number of professional ensembles including the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, British Sinfonietta and the Novello Orchestra, which have led him to perform on some of the countries finest stages including the Royal Albert Hall and London Palladium. Alongside Tongwynlais Music Academy, Sam is also a tutor for Rhondda Cynon Taf Music Service. Sams current project is exploring the world of junk percussion, he also enjoys making whisky based cocktails.
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