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.
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.
Many percussion instruments are idiophones. An idiophone is an instrument where the material itself vibrates to create the initial sound.
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.
Best instruments for Intermediate Players
Key Feature: Compact Size
Includes: Mallets & Dust Cover
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
Best All-Round Glockenspiel
Key Feature: High Carbon Steel Bars produce bright tones
Includes: Rectangular glockenspiel Case & Mallets
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!
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.
Best Intermediate Marimba
Key Feature: Yamaha Tuning Method
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!
Best for Professionals
Key Feature: Innovative Hanger Unit
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 SetBest instruments for
Key Feature: Lightweight
Includes: Padded Covers and Mallets
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.
Best for Pit Work
Key Feature: Compact Design
Includes: Drive Unit & Power Supply
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
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.
Best for Intermediate Players
Yamaha YX35G Xylophone
An established and trusted brand
Best instruments for Intermediate Players
WHD Timpani Set
Come with high-quality Remo heads and is a great entry-level option