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Percussion Family Instruments

Percussion Family Instruments

Percussionists play a huge array of percussion instruments. The percussion family of musical instruments can be divided into two categories; pitched and un-pitched percussion, with further subcategories blending between the two. Carry on reading to explore the percussion family instruments and find out what makes them ting, boom and crash!

Instruments in the percussion family don’t only deliver rhythm, but melody and harmony too. A percussionist can produce many different sounds and effects, because the percussion instruments are made of all sorts of materials, and the mallets are too. Click here to read our article about how to choose the right musical instruments from the percussion family for you.

Pitched percussion are instruments with a definite pitch and distinctive sound, whereas unpitched percussion (although it may produce a pitch) will be unpredictable, and can change.

Many percussion instruments are idiophones. An idiophone is an instrument where the material vibrates to create the initial sound. Some examples are the xylophone, cymbals, triangle and gong.

Sabian Artisan 18”
Crash Natural
A great addition to the drum kit or a percussion set up
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: 18” Hand Hammered
9/10
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The TedScore™:  9/10
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CONS
8” Bronze Triangle
by Sabian
A must-have for every percussionist
  • Suitable for: All symphonic settings
  • Design: 8” B8 Bronze
7/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7/10
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Pitched percussion instruments

ONE

Pitched Percussion instruments (also known as tuned percussion) include the xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel (also known as bells), tubular bells (also known as chimes) and vibraphone (which has a pedal). These percussion instruments produce many pitches. We call these pitches ‘notes’, and the player needs to strike or hit various notes (also known as bars or keys) to play a melody or harmony. Some tuned percussion family instruments have resonators underneath each note to amplify the sound.

The xylophone and marimba are similar in construction. The bars are wooden and they both use resonators. The biggest difference is the sound they make. The xylophone is bright and higher in pitch, whereas marimbas are much richer in tone. This is mainly down to the size of the keys. Generally speaking, a harder mallet or beater is used when striking the xylophone, and the marimba is popular for solo playing.

3.5 Octave Xylophone
by Yamaha
BRILLIANT XYLOPHONE AT REASONABLE COST
  • Suitable for: Lower Graded students
  • Design: 3.5 Octaves, Padauk Bars
8/10
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The glockenspiel (also known as bells) is one of the smaller tuned percussion family instruments and the keys are metallic. It is used in many musical settings from full symphonic works to musical theatre and military bands. It is also particularly popular for use in schools because they can come in such a small set, ideal for little hands!

Glockenspiel-Silver-
Keys/14X5
Performance Percussion Glockenspiel
  • Key Feature: Compact Design
  • Includes: Beaters
9/10
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Drums are not usually thought of as pitched percussion instruments, however, Timpani are classed as drums and there are other world instruments that create pitches. The timpani are most commonly played alongside the percussion section of an orchestra.

WHD Timpani Set
GREAT STARTER SET
  • Key Feature: Lightweight
  • Includes: Padded Covers and Mallets
7/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
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Unpitched percussion instruments

TWO

Un-pitched percussion includes the snare and large bass drums, triangle, tambourine, and maracas. The origin of these instruments stretch across the globe and are often used in many of our ensembles.

The bass drum is the largest drum, and because of its size it creates the lowest pitch.

WHD 36'' X 18''
Concert Bass Drum
A great all-rounder
  • Suitable for: Orchestral Settings
  • Design: 36"
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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The snare drum creates its unique sound from the snares (metal coils), which are pressed against the snare head, which then vibrate to create a ‘buzz’.

Gretsch Full
Range 14" x 5"
Black Nickel Over
Steel Snare
A great all-rounder
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: 14” x 5”
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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CONS

The two drums I’ve just mentioned are central to a marching band, because they set and maintain the tempo.

You can use all sorts of sticks and mallets to make the sound, as well as using your hands. Choosing what to use depends on many things, including the volume and timbre you want to achieve. Even the venue you are playing influences your decision, because the sound you make will come across to your audience differently depending on the acoustic.

We can also split un-pitched percussion into another group of hand-held percussion, or auxiliary percussion. This describes any of the percussion instruments that is held in your hand. It’s a useful term for musicians and composers, because it eliminates other percussion instruments such as timpani and the xylophone. Many of our most common hand held instruments are from Latin America.

Latin/Afro-Caribbean and Persian percussion

Three

As well as Latin America, Latin percussion also includes instruments from Spain and Portugal.

Possibly the most well known of these instruments are the bongos. Originating from central Africa, the bongos are a relatively new musical instrument which are widely used in Cuba in music such as Salsa.

Check out this video featuring some latin percussion family instruments:

Meinl Percussion
Free Ride Designer
6 ¾” & 8” Bongos
Perfect for the working musician.
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: 6 ¾” & 8” Wood Bongos
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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CONS

You will no doubt recognize the unmistakable sound of the steel pans which originate from Trinidad and Tobago. Claves and the Guiro are more examples and of course, there is always room for more Cowbell!

Meinl Wood Claves
A staple for Latin Music
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: Solid Redwood
9/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  9/10
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CONS
Nino Guiro
An important part of a percussion set-up
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: Rubber wood with wooden striker
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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CONS
Tycoon 6” Black
Powder Mountable
Cowbell
An important part of a percussionists set-up
  • Suitable for: All music settings
  • Design: Black Powder Coated Finish
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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CONS

The Persian Dulcimer is steeped in history and similar instruments can be found in India, China and Eastern Europe. It is a stringed instrument that is struck with oval shaped mallets, and interestingly this uses the same principle as a piano.

The Darbuka (also known as a Doumbek or a Tumbak) is a small goblet shaped drum. The techniques used to make the sound are intricate and mainly use the fingers. It can be positioned under one arm, placed on the lap or suspended with a strap.

Meinl 8 ½ “ Copper Doumbek
Suitable For: Folkloric Music
  • Suitable for: Professional players
  • Design: Hand Engraved Shell
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10
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Percussion family instruments
Summary

Determining whether or not an instrument from the percussion family is pitched or un-pitched depends on its ability to make a definite pitch. We have also explored subcategories of these groups of percussion, which were Latin/Afro-Caribbean Percussion and Persian Percussion.

There is such a vast number of instruments within the percussion family, and many of them share the same or similar techniques. This is why a percussionist can often turn their hand to many of these instruments.

Ted's List

Best Glockenspiel for Beginners

Glockenspiel-Silver-
Keys/14X5

A compact design, and also includes your first pair of beaters!

Ted's List

Best Snare Drum for Orchestra Playing

Gretsch Full Range 14" x 5" Black Nickel Over Steel Snare

A stunning sounding drum from one of the biggest names in the business!

Ted's List

Best Hand Percussion Instrument for Beginners

Meinl Percussion Free Ride Designer 6 3/4" & 8" Bongos

Great sounding bongos from a trusted brand.

FAQ's

The four main percussion family instruments are Bass Drum, Snare, Timpani and Xylophone

The two types of percussion family instruments are pitched and unpitched percussion. However, there are further categories that can be placed into each of these (or crossover between the two), such as Latin/Afro-Caribbean and Persian percussion.

There are literally thousands of different types of percussion family instruments, originating from every corner of the globe.

The main six families of instruments are strings, woodwind, brass, percussion, keyboards and voice.

There are two main types of percussion family instruments. These are pitched percussion, where the instrument creates definite pitches (such as a glockenspiel or bells), and un-pitched percussion where the instrument does not create a definite pitch (such as a snare drum).

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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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