Percussion 101: Percussion Families

Percussion 101: Percussion Families

When most people ask what I play, I say "Percussion".

They usually look at me with a questioning look, and a "Oh, that's nice".

Then I say, "I play the drums."

The lightbulb hits. "Oh, you are a DRUMMER!"

Percussion is more than Animal banging on a set of toms. It is more than "More COWBELL!" and it is definitely more than that little monkey that plays the cymbals.

There are several different groups of percussion instruments. Since percussion instruments essentially include anything you hit or shake to make noise (including noisemakers like bird whistles, car brake drums, radios, and the kitchen sink), being able to include every instrument seems like a daunting task. 

Generally musicians group percussion into pitched and non-pitched percussion.
Here are some basic pitched Percussion Instruments: 
  • Pitched Metals: Bells, Crotales, Vibraphone, Chimes
  • Pitched Wood: Marimba, Xylophone
  • Pitched Drums: Timpani, Roto Toms
Here are some basic non-pitched Percussion Instruments:
  • Shakers: Maracas, Shekeres, Tambourine, etc.
  • Metals: Wind Chimes, Triangle
  • Cymbals: (Although METAL, usually in a class of their own) Cymbals, Gong, Finger Cymbal, Tam Tam, etc.
  • Drums: Snare Drum, Toms, Hand Drums (congas, djembe, bongos, etc.), Bass Drum, etc.
  • "Toys": This is where the kitchen sink goes, along with slapsticks, ratchets, whistles, woodblocks, vibraslaps, flexitones, and overall randomness, including a scuba tank and a broken TV. 
Percussionists often end up playing other instruments, including electronic ones:
  • Synthesizers and Electronic Keyboards
  • Electronic Drumsets
  • Malletkat (essentially a MIDI controller in the shape of a mallet instrument)
  • Theremin
  • Drum Machines
  • Etc.
Percussion instruments are universal. From the clicking of stones of the Australian Aborigines, to the congas in Cuba, Ghana's djembe, to the Javanese gamelan, to America's rocking drumset players, percussionists can be found in every culture (except for maybe those penguins in Antarctica). 


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