Percussion type



Audio: percussion type (0:06)

Percussion type
Figure: percussion type

percussion type plays a rhythm using ten different percussion instruments. The percussion type figure shows the score. The shape of the head of the beat indicates the type of percussion instrument:

Percussion classification is a bit of a nightmare. Even the wondrous Hornbostel-Sachs system does not have a single category for percussion instruments, it has three. Nearly all drums fall into the category of membranophones, bells and cymbals are classed as struck idiophones, and whistles are called aerophones. A pithy way to remember the distinction between membranophones, idiophones and aerophones is drums, bells and whistles.

Percussion instruments can also be classed as pitched percussion and unpitched percussion. There are far more unpitched percussion instruments than pitched. Most drums and cymbals, for example, are unpitched percussion. Pitched percussion includes a motley assortment of instruments including timpani, vibraphone, xylophone, and curiously, the piano. Some instruments straddle both pitched and unpitched categories such as the bell.

Drums, technically, are a subset of percussion. This may come as a surprise because, in everyday parlance, a lot of people class them the other way round: percussion is a subset of drums. Some commentators even regard drums and percussion as two related but distinct classes. We use the terms, percussion and drum, interchangeably throughout the guide to represent any rhythm instrument. Hopefully this simple approach will be enough.

This list of percussion instruments is invaluable in moments of crisis. It catalogues over 100 instruments and classifies them not only according to the Hornbostel-Sachs system but also into pitched percussion and unpitched percussion. It is a long list and includes stuff you have probably never even heard of let alone played. Everyone should have a personal favourite, mine is the mute cuica which sounds like a squeaky dog.