How do Percussion Instruments Produce Sound? (Examples)


One of the things that everyone thinks is easy is learning how to play drums, however, what few realize is the natural rhythm that is required to play properly. Because drums are part of the percussion family of instruments many people believe that anything in this family is simply hitting something and a sound is made.

Percussion instruments make their sound through vibrations through materials when struck with a mallet or hand, with the sound often amplified by the hollow body of the instrument. The way a percussion instrument is hit and the thing that is hitting it will greatly determine what sound is being produced.

Knowing what types of instruments percussion are and how each of them works will change how you view percussion instruments as a whole. Not only are these instruments a lot more complex than people know, but mastering them takes years of work and determination, knowing how they all work and which ones require more finesse will save you disappointment down the line.

Here’s how percussion instruments work and the types you will see in the world around you.

The two types of percussion instruments

There are two types of percussion instruments that can be used in the world, one has a larger family and the other one is much smaller. However, they are both capable of producing sounds that both amazes, or just gets your blood pumping ready for something amazing to happen.

Pitched percussion instruments are able to change the pitch of the sounds they produce, allowing you to make a wide variety of sounds. These instruments are much more complex and have song sheets that can be followed closely to learn how to play the instrument.

Unpitched percussion instruments are much simpler in their design, allowing for loudness to be changed but the pitch will be relatively the same no matter what. These instruments sound easier when you hear they have less sheets and notes to learn, however, they can be significantly harder to master.

Each type of percussion instruments are used around the world and in very many ways, with people sometimes learning how to play at professional schools, or sometimes just in their parents garage. Becoming a master percussion instrument player is a long trip, but it will be one you can enjoy every step of the way.

Pitched Percussion Sound

These instruments usually consist of multiple parts, requiring you to learn what sound each part makes. Creating much more complex sounds while limiting what you can do with just the right rhythm in your heart.

Mallet Percussion Sound

So called because you need a mallet of some shape or type to use the instrument, the sound produced by these can be varied. Using either hard mallets, soft mallets, or even simply hard brush materials can make these instruments produce many varied sounds that will be required for each new piece of music you will be playing.

  • Metallophone: Metallophone are made of metal, usually consisting of tuned metal rods, tubes, bars, and bowls that are hit at according to the sheet music provided. This gives off an oddly hollow sound high pitched sound that can make some amazing music when played properly.
  • Xylophone: The easiest percussion instrument for many people to recognize, the Xylophone can be one of the more complex instruments to master. As you learn more about the instrument the number of keys in front of you will increase, often used in large concerto’s the Xylophone is an instrument that consists of wooden or metallic bars that are hit with wooden hammers.
  • Marimba: A more complex and unique percussion instrument of this type the Marimba consists of wooden bars under which multiple resonator pipes hanging underneath to amplify the sounds. These instruments are often quite large and for the untrained will look similar to Xylophones.

Keyboard Percussion Sound

Almost similar to mallet percussion instruments, keyboard percussion instruments are usually hit with a mallet, or just the hands. However, the bars, bells, and rods are arranged in front of the player in much the same arrangement you can find on a piano. These instruments are much more complex and starting with something else is usually a good way to learn the basics before moving onto these.

  • Glockenspiel: Looking almost exactly like a Xylophone the Glockenspiel has metal bars that are arranged in two or more layers. You play the instrument by hitting each bar to produce the tuned sound. Each bar on the Glockenspiel will create a different sound, with the different rows regularly creating slight differences in sounds.
  • Tubular Bells: Created to represent the sound of church bells in an ensemble Tubular bells are large hollow tubes of varying lengths lined up together. The player hits each bell according to what is needed, bends in the bells can help to produce different sounds while the mallets used on the bells can also help to produce shaper or softer sounds.
  • Vibraphone: A lot more complex the Vibraphone consists of two rows of metal bars suspended over tubular resonators, with a motor driven rotating vane inside. This gives the Vibraphone an entirely unique and specialized sound that has seen it gain popularity in ensembles around the world.

Melodic Percussion Sound

Melodic percussion are a set of instruments that produce sound in much the same way other percussion instruments, with hammers or the hands, but not always with a strike. However, these hammers are not always held directly in the hand of the player or are not required at all to make the sound.

  • Glass Harp: Made up of a series of wine glasses, glass harps are resonating glasses of water that creates often eerie or melodic sounds. As each glass requires the player to know exactly how full they should be and what notes will be produced, it can be a challenging and frustrating instrument to learn.
  • Piano: A well known and popular instrument, the piano is considered a percussion instrument because each key on a piano is connected to a hammer. When a key is used the hammer slams down on a cable that has been pulled taught, this produces various sounds when amplified through the body of the piano.
  • Steelpan: Popular in Jamaica and other tropical locations, the steelpan is an amazing instrument that produces some amazing music. Requiring smaller hammers to use, sometimes used without hammers, learning how to play the steelpan can be complicated and may require the assistance of someone who has already mastered it.

Unpitched Percussion Sound

While there is sheet music for instruments that use unpitched percussion, these instruments produce sounds where there is almost no pitch. Requiring that the instrument player knows how to use the instrument and what sound will be produced when a drum is hit.

  • Cymbals: Each cymbal made is unique, and they all have different pitches and sounds that they produce. After several years of use a cymbal may sound entirely different than what it should, which is why it is an unpitched instrument.
  • Drums: Big, small, compact or room size, drums are never going to produce the exact same sound twice, which is why it is important to learn how to understand the rhythm of music when you want to master the drums. Many drum players are more in tune with the music they are a part of than anyone else.
  • Rattles: Rattles are easy to use and will usually be used along with another instrument, when used properly they will add a unique twist to the sound being produced by the ensemble or band. However, getting the same rattle twice can be a real challenge, which makes them entirely unpitched.

Percussion Sound Conclusion

The world of percussion instruments is large, and many people will constantly be looking for some easy way to enter it. However, you will need to understand how each instrument makes their sound and how slight changes will affect them before you can become a percussion master.

There is more to percussion than simply hitting the right thing with the right hammer.

SteveM

I enjoyed the unpitched appeal of percussion prior to discovering handpans in a 'moment' I was experiencing. I've been writing ever since.

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