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Percussion Instruments


Below are the most common Percussion instruments used in a Brass & Reed Band or Concert Band like Da Buttera.  There are many, many percussion instruments both pitched and unpitched.   It is by no means limited to Snare Drum, Bass Drum and Cymbals or the Drum Kit. While these would be the mainstay of any Percussion Section there are many many more instruments available and composed for.  Indeed there are as many Percussion instruments in the orchestra as there are musicians!  This being circa 120 musicians.  There are many "toys" that are used for great effect in particular pieces of music.  For example the Cannon used for Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture, or a horse whip used in Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride.  The possibilities are almost endless.

Drum Kit


One of the most versitile of the Percussion instruments.  A Drum Kit usually consists of a Bass Drum, Snare Drum, two Toms, a floor Tom, a Ride Cymbal, a Crash Cymbal and a Hi-Hat (which is a pedal operated device consisting of two small Cymbals on a stand that is also hit with a stick).  It is used for almost all of our pieces of music and, especially if the number of available percussionists is minimal because it can emulate the sounds of most of the other Percussion instruments.  The Drum Kit is almost always used when playing jazz, latin, pop and rock music.

Bass Drum


The Bass Drum helps keep the band together in many pieces and forms a percussive foundation on which the melody can rest.

Snare Drum


This shallow, cylindrical Drum produces a sound that is very distinctive to the Drum (higher in pitch than the Bass Drum).  The snares, which are bands of metal wires, are pulled across the bottom head of the Drum. This produces a buzzing or snapping sound when the Drum is struck using a variety of techniques.



Cymbals are metal disks that are clashed together a sound.  They come in a variety of sizes: from the delicate, eastern finger cymbals, to the large and deafening orchestral cymbals.  Cymbals are actually thin bronze disks, held at the centre so that the edges are free to vibrate.  Cymbals can produce a surprising range of effects: some soft and delicate, others loud and harsh. They are used in almost every type of music, from formal orchestral music to heavy rock, where they form part of a Drum Kit.  When played singlely or as part of a Drum Kit they are mounted on a stand and can be struck, scraped or rolled with mallets to produce a multitude of effects.  Diameters usually range from 12 to 26 inches.  There are many different shapes and sizes of Cymbals, but all of them resemble a thin brass disk that is held/attached in the middle. Pictured on the left are a pair of Crash Cymbals, are played by grasping one in each hand and then hitting the Cymbals together.

Suspended Cymbals


The Suspended Cymbal is a large Cymbal mounted on a stand which is played by rolling using two soft yarn mallets.  The result is a shimmering brassy sound that is used to emphasize and add body to musical passages.



There large tuned Drums add "bottom-end" to the sound of the band.  A Timpani roll is often used to build up suspense or accelerate the band towards a crescendo.


Timpani or Kettledrums are usually played in pairs, each with a single drum head stretched over a pot or vessel.  Timpani are the most important Orchestral Percussion instruments apart from the Piano.  Two or more Drums, arranged in a group, are played at any one time. Timpani can be tuned to play particular notes using the pedal.  Great skill is needed to strike the Drums well, and to change the pitch quickly and quietly during performances.  A set of 5 Orchestral Timpani span a pitch range from low bass D to B-flat, almost two octaves higher. They are made of copper or fiberglass bowl with a plastic or calf-skin drum head.  The drum heads range from 19 - 32 inches in diameter.



The Orchestra Bells are a series of metal bars that are struck with a mallet. They have a very high and pure sound.  The bells are considered part of the melodic percussion since a melody can be played on them.



The Xylophone consists of two rows of wooden bars, arranged like a piano keyboard.  When you strike the bars with hard beaters, the Xylophone gives a bright and penetrating sound; soft beaters make the sound more mellow.  The Xylophone's ringing notes make it a colourful addition to the Percussion Section of a band or orchestra, but it can also sound eerie and chilling.  The pitch range of the Xylophone is from three and a half to four octaves. Its size is variable ( around 6 ft. long and 3 ft. tall ).



The Marimba is similar in construction to the Xylophone, but it has larger bars and larger resonance tubes on the bottom.  As a result the Marimba has a much warmer and resonate tone than the Xylophone.  Marimbas usually span a pitch range of 4-1/3 octaves, and 5 octave "Grande Marimbas" are often used. The Marimba is not used very often in concert band music, but when it is used it has a wonderful effect on the overall sound of the band.

Auxiliary Percussion


Percussion instruments include anything that you hit, scrap or tap to accompany the band.  These instruments include Claves, Tamborine, Bongo Drums, Cabbassa, Wood Block, Cow Bell, Guiro, Maracas, Wood Block, etc.. Also included are "Toys" such as Slide Whistle, Duck Call, Shaker-Balls and even an Air-Raid Siren sometimes.



The sound of the triangle is the soft "ding" that you will sometimes here during some passages.

Chimes (Tubular Bells)


Designed to emmulate the sounds of church bells, the chimes give ringing tones that can be heard over the entire ensemble.  They are often used during slow lyrical passages in chorals and in rythmically complex movements where the band is working towards a finale.



The gong is very similar to the Tam-Tam, except that it has a large bump in the middle that gives is a rounder, cooler sound.



The Tam-tam is a huge metal percussion instrument which makes an unforgettable booming sound.  It is a type of Gong, but it is made of thinner metal than most Gongs and has no raised boss in the centre.  When you strike the Tam-Tam, the sound gets louder and louder, building up to a shimmering climax before fading away. It is usually made of bronze (a mixture of copper and tin), and is more than 30 in. in diameter.

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