What is a percussion instrument?
A percussion instrument is an instrument whose sound is made by striking, shaking, rubbing or scraping. These actions create sound because they cause these objects to vibrate, then transmit these vibrations to the air where the ear translates them into sound.
Drums are some of the most commonly played percussion instruments. A drum is made of a head – densely stretched, flexible material of synthetic fibers or natural animal skin – placed over a hollow cylindrical frame. A drum is played by hitting the head, creating vibrations that are amplified as they echo throughout the hollow chamber below.
Some types of drums are made to play special places. Water drums, or timpani, have paths that are adjusted by changing the tension of the heads. Some drums have a pitch but are stuck in place. The smaller and denser a drumhead is, the higher the pitch it produces, as it vibrates at a faster speed.
Other drums do not give a noticeable single height in the western scale and are played instead of the quality of their timbre. Some of these drums can make short, dry sounds (like a snare drum) or deep, blossoming sounds (like a bass drum).
In connection with percussion instruments, the instruments that are considered members of the ‘keyboard’ family are those that are played with handheld malls on keys that resemble a piano keyboard, such as a xylophone or marimba.
The keys to these instruments are specially shaped rods of metal, wood or synthetic fiber that give a raised sound when struck. As with drumheads, smaller rods produce louder sounds and larger rods produce lower sound. The bars are arranged on the left to the right from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch.
Some keyboard keys provide sound without the need for amplification because they are made of highly resonant materials, such as the sealed metal keys for the keyboard clocks. Others, such as xylophones, marimba bass and vibraphones, are reinforced with a series of long tubes arranged under the instrument, one under each key. These create resonance and amplification in much the same way that a drum frame does.
In addition to these two main schools, other complementary percussion instruments – known as ‘extra percussion instruments’ – are numerous and the tool can be used in different ways. Additional percussion instruments may include whistles, shakers (hand-held, hollow, sealed containers of seeds or pearls that rage), noisy ratchets, bells, cymbals, water-filled wine glasses, or any object that may make an interesting sound when struck and set to vibrate.