Asia Minor is where most of the percussion instruments that we see in the orchestra first came from. In the 15th century when people began moving east they brought with them many instruments. Our percussion instruments got their beginnings there. During the Crusades the Crusaders brought back the drums that they found in the Middle East.
The percussion section has many different instruments in it. It is usually in the back of the orchestra; sometimes it is right behind the brass section. The percussion section is made up of instruments that use a hammer, mallet or other device, or sounder, to strike the instrument and make the sound. The kettle drums, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, and celesta are the only ones in this section that have a definite pitch. So most instruments in this section don't have a definite pitch.
The drums that are in the percussion section are the snare drum, kettle drum, bass drum, and the side drum. Some of the other instruments in this section are tubular bells, xylophone, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, tambourines, Chinese gong, triangle, castanets, celesta, vibraphone, tamtam, wood block, and bells.
There are even more instruments that are part of the percussion section but they aren't used as often. I am only going to tell you about some of the instruments in the percussion section.
Kettle Drum or Timpani
The kettle drum is the leader of the drum family. Shaped like a big pot, it is also the biggest member of the drum family. They were first made for the Hungarian cavalry. Their drummer would ride on horseback with a pair of drums attached to his horse. His drums were made of copper in the shape of soup kettles. That's where they got their name. The name timpani is the Italian word for their name. The kettle drum sounds deep and rumbly like thunder or like a cannon. Tchaiskovsky featured kettle drums in his 1812 overture.
The bass drum is the lowest keyed drum in the orchestra. It does not have a definite pitch like the kettle drum. It is usually played with a lamb's wool beater but any kind of beater may be used. The bass drum responds slowly and it is usually given simply rhythms to play. If you have every heard an orchestra you might have heard a sound like a gunshot. That is when a bass drum player plays a rimshot which is where the player hits his stick against the top of the drum to make the sound.
Snare or Side Drums
Even though snare drums have different types and sizes they all have one feature in common. All of them have two heads. The upper head is played and the head underneath has little strips of gut or metal stretched across it. These vibrate to make a dry rattling sound.
Cymbal, Tambourine, Castanets, Triangle, Cow Bells, Wood Blocks, Gongs,etc.
These percussion instruments are smaller, hand held instruments.Some people call this group of instruments the "kitchen sink department" because of the wide variety of things it includes. Even though they are very different from other percussion instruments and even from each other, you still play them by hitting them with a sounder or against each other.
The largest instruments in this group are the cymbals and gongs. They are made from sheets of metal like copper or bronze. The gong is played by hitting it with a mallet. The cymbals can be struck with a drum stick but are usually banged against each other.
Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Marimba
The xylophone and glockenspiel are tuned percussion instruments. They hold their tune better that any of the other percussion instruments. The glockenspiel has steel rectangular plates laid side by side in two rows. You sound a glockenspiel with metal mallets. It's sound is like chimes The xylophone has wooden slabs rather than metal ones but it is laid out the same. One book described it's sound like "dancing skeletons". The marimba is a larger, deeper, more mellow-sounding type of xylophone. This picture is of a marimba.
© Copyright 1999 ERCHA.