What Are Percussion Instruments?


Percussion instruments fall under the category of any instrument that makes a sound by striking, shaking or scraping it. Percussion instruments could be divided even further into two categories; instruments that produce a definite pitch and those that do not.


  • Most of the percussion instruments that we see in the orchestra today first came from Asia. As people began moving east during the 15th century, they brought many different instruments with them.

    The thought of percussion instruments were some of the earliest ideas about musical instruments. If you think about it, people have been using their hands and feet to make rhythms, and there have always been rocks and sticks to bang together to make different sounds.


  • The primary function of percussion instruments is usually rhythmic, but many of the instruments are used to create a melody. Percussion instruments include the bell, cymbal, drum, glockenspiel, marimba, piano, steel drum, tabla, tambourine, timpani, and zylophone.


  • There are two main types of percussion instruments. One type is known as Idiophones. These instruments vibrate when struck, shook or scraped. Examples of these include cow bells, wood blocks, the triangle, tambourine, the cymbal, and the gong. The other type is known as membranophones. These instruments have a stretched membrane that vibrates when struck, shook or rubbed. An example of a membranophone is the drum.


  • When a percussion instrument is tuned, it plays an individual pitch or note, similar to woodwind, brass and string instruments. When a percussion instrument is not tuned, it creates a sound with an indefinite pitch, similar to the sound of fingers tapping on a table.

    Percussion instruments are from a large worldwide group, with links to the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Unique cultures are represented in the various musical styles produced from all percussion instruments.


  • The percussion section is usually located in the back of the orchestra. It has many different instruments that use a hammer, mallet or other tool used to strike the instrument to make a sound. The percussion section is a very versatile part of the band or orchestra. It has a lot of different exciting instruments that add unique details to any song. The sound effects coming from the percussion section are usually a big part of what keeps the attention of the audience. The drums keep the beat and help the other instruments follow along to the appropriate rhythm.

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