Orchestras consist of four different instrumental sections that include string, brass, woodwind instruments and percussion instruments. A percussion instrument is an instrument that is not classified as string, brass or woodwind. The percussion instruments act as an orchestra’s rhythm section, creating special effects and producing unique sounds to give mood to pieces of music. Many percussion instruments can be played by one person.
Percussion instruments such as drums are among the oldest instruments in the world. Drums are made of animal skins stretched over wood or metal frames to produce a resonant tone. Used to give rhythm to the orchestra, some drums can be set to a specific, recognizable pitch while others produce a sound but no specific tone. Timpani drums are large water drums with rounded bottoms that can be adapted to special places. Untoned rhythm instruments include snare drums, bass drums, tenor drums and side drums. Drums are played by being struck with objects such as drums, mallets, beaters, hands, brushes or sounders.
Some orchestral music uses piano or other tuned percussion instruments to play the melody. These instruments have blocks, bars or tubes arranged as keyboard keys. Xylophones, marimbas, tubular bells, celesta and glockenspiel have a recognizable pitch so that they can be used as melodic instruments in an orchestra. The xylophone is made of wood with plates that are laid side by side in two rows that produce a ringtone when struck. A marimba is larger than a xylophone and gives a deeper, softer sound. A glockenspiel resembles a small xylophone, is made of metal and struck with metal baskets to produce a chiming sound. A celesta is made of metal, resembles a small piano and requires acquaintance with a keyboard to be able to play it. Tubular bells, or chimes, are long, thin-walled metal tubes that are connected at one end and cut to certain lengths to produce specific locations.
Special Effect Instruments
Instruments used to produce unique sounds, create special effects or add to the mood of orchestral music choices can be set or untrunched. Tambourines, cowbells, claves and maracas are thin instruments that are shaken to produce a sound. Wooden blocks and chestnuts are scraped or joined together to produce untoned sounds. Cymbals and gongs are made of metal plates that are beaten to give a resonant sound. Cymbals can also collapse. Triangles are tuned instruments that strike with another object to produce a pitch.