Examples of Percussion Instruments


Percussion instruments in a brass band, as in an orchestra or any other musical ensemble, include drums, cymbals, triangles, bells, chimes, and a variety of other things that are played principally by striking them with a stick, hand, mallet, or another instrument. The percussion section also plays the “special effects” instruments, such as slide whistles and sirens, when they are specified by a composer. The main purpose of the percussion section is to provide a rhythmic foundation for the ensemble.

The typical brass band has two or three percussionists, although some pieces call for as many as six. Some arrangements call for traditional orchestral percussion, while more contemporary arrangements are best played with a jazz/rock style drum kit.

Indefinite, Fixed, and Variable Pitch

There are three basic types of percussion instruments. Instruments such as the snare drum and cymbal are of indefinite pitch. The sound they produce has no specific pitch and works with any harmony or key that the band might be playing. However, even instruments with indefinite pitch still have a relative pitch – a larger drum will sound deeper than a smaller drum, assuming that head tension, etc. is equal.

Chimes, bells, and xylophone are examples of fixed-pitch percussion instruments. These instruments have a definite pitch, but the pitch cannot be tuned or changed by the player. Usually, fixed-pitch percussion instruments are arranged in sets, similar to the layout of a piano keyboard.

The most common variable-pitch percussion instruments are the timpani (also known as kettledrums). The individual instruments can be tuned to a specific pitch by the player. The range of adjustment is usually rather small (typically less than one octave).