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Percussion instruments in 2021 musical orchestra (everything you need to know)

Percussion instruments are those instruments that produce musical sounds on being hit, struck, scraped and plucked. The Percussion orchestra includes a plethora of musical instruments apart from drums and cymbals. Some common examples of percussion instruments are Xylophone, Timpani, Snare drum, cymbals and gongs.

So diverse is this particular instrument group, that one can’t help but lookout for the distinctive beats of each instrument in an orchestra. As these instruments form the backbone of musical beats, we bring to you the complete A to Z guide on Percussion instruments.

Percussion instruments and their types

There are two types of Percussion instruments

  • Pitched
  • Unpitched

This categorization is based on the musical property ‘Pitch’. Pitched instruments produce musical notes of an identifiable pitch. Percussion instruments such as Xylophone and Piano fall in this category.

Unpitched Percussion instruments produce an unidentifiable pitch. Bass drums and Castanets are some unpitched percussion instruments.

A variety of Percussion instruments on display

Instruments in the Percussion Family

Any musical instrument that produces musical notes upon scraping, hitting, plucking, striking and shaking comes into the category of the Percussion family. Check out these instruments-

  1. Timpani
  2. Xylophone
  3. Cymbals
  4. Snare drum
  5. Triangle
  6. Bass drum
  7. Tambourine
  8. Gongs
  9. Chimes
  10. Piano
The inclusion of Piano as a Percussion instrument still baffles the best fans of classical music

What are Idiophone Instruments?

Idiophones are a large group of musical instruments. Here, sound occurs due to the vibration of their own substance.

Idiophones differ from other musical instruments such as piano or flute. This is because the sound is due to a vibrating air column or strings. Triangles, Xylophones, Bells, etc. are popular idiophones.

A gallery of idiophone Percussion instruments

Types of Idiophone Instruments

Concussion Instruments

These musical instruments have two similar components, which when struck mutually produce a sound. Castanets, Cymbals and Clappers are popular concussion instruments. Check out this video where a Flamenco dancer plays the castanets!

Percussion Instruments

The percussion category includes Triangle, Xylophones, Gongs and Kettle Drums. These instruments share something in common as they produce sound when a non-sonorous component strikes them.

Shaken Instruments

Shaken idiophones are characterized by the presence of hollow vessels filled with rattling substances. Therefore, Rattles and Sistrums fall in this category.

An African Sistrum Rattle

Scraped Instruments

The scraped type of idiophones consist of Scrappers and Cog rattles. Below is the illustration of a Scrapper.

What are Membranophone instruments?

The Membranophone family differs from the Idiophones in the way they produce sounds. It is because these musical instruments produce sound through the vibration of a stretched membrane. Some common examples include Kettledrums and Drums.

What are the different types of the membranophone instruments?

The membranophone family of musical instruments comprises different types of membrane-based musical instruments. They differ from each other in their shape and the way they produce the vibrations in the membrane. Some membranophones are-

  • Kettle drums which consist of tunable as well as non-tunable rattle drums
  • Tubular drums which are are cylindrical and hollow. They also come in goblet shapes.
  • Friction drums where friction causes the vibration of the membrane
  • Mirlitons where the human voice causes membrane vibration

European Percussion Instruments

European percussion instrument comprise of indigenous and non-indigenous membranophone instruments. Introduced by the Ancient Egyptians to Europe, percussion instruments like membranophones and idiophones developed during the late Antiquity period.

Idiophones in Europe

  • Clappers were the most common idiophone instruments in-use in the European region at the time of Antiquity. These were used by the Maenads- the female dancers in Dionysian rites. Therefore, clappers are also called ‘dancer’s clappers’.
  • Other common idiophones were Bells, Cymbals and Chalkos etc.
  • All the idiophones were made with bronze except for Clappers. This is because of a mythological belief that bronze protects against the evil eye and bad omens.
  • The evidences of such mythological beliefs are present in many scriptures related to European musical instruments from the Antiquity. For instance, it was a ritual to produce sound through the Chalkos on a lunar eclipse night to get rid of negative energies.

The annual visit of ghosts of the dead to their former homes was terminated by requests to depart emphasized by the clanging of a bronze plate.

Roman poet, Ovid

Membranophones in the Antiquity

  • Only a few members of the membranophone musical family were present in Europe during the Antiquity period.
  • Most of the membranophone instruments were non-indigenous.
  • Ancient Frame drums found in Egypt varied a lot in their shapes and sizes. Rectangular and polygonal frame drums were extremely popular in these times.

Chinese Percussion Instruments

Chinese percussion instruments differ from Western percussion instruments in many ways. However, the material for construction of these instruments is the key point of difference between the two. There are three primary types of Chinese percussion instruments:-

  1. Metal type which includes large gongs, small gongs, cymbals, chimes and bells.
  2. Wood type which consist of Bamboo clappers and temple blocks
  3. Skin type- Paigu, hand drums, in addition to the Dagu.

Read more about Chinese percussion instruments, here.

Cymbals in addition to Marimba

Examples of Percussion Instruments

The Xylophone

The origin of the xylophone goes back to ancient Africa and Asia. However, the name ‘Xylophone’ has Greek roots. ‘Xylon’ means ‘wood’ and ‘Phone’ means ‘sound’. Because the Xylophone consists of wooden bars that produce sound upon being stricken by mallets. The xylophone is one of the prime members of the percussion family.

Name of the instrumentXylophone
OriginAfrica and Asia
Type of the instrumentPercussion instrument
Common modificationsMarimba, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel
Brief information about Xylophone
A xylophone


Tambourine is a group of small frame drum-like percussion musical instrument. However, the term ‘Tambourine’ specifically refers to the European tambourine. It is a small frame drum with a narrow shell. Tambourine has either one or two skins which are nailed to the polygonal/circular shape of its boundary. A characteristic feature of the European tambourine are the jingles at its periphery.

Name of the instrumentTambourine
Type of the instrumentPercussion instrument
Characteristic featureAttachment of Jingles at the periphery
Brief details about the Tambourine


Maracas are Percussion instruments which are categorized under Rattles. Although, the topic of of their origin is a point of debate among music experts. However, many believe that the Maracas have a Spanish origin which extends to Africa, the Pacific islands and America. Maracas are gourd rattles filled with stones or pebbles.

Name of the instrumentMaracas
OriginSpain, parts of South Africa in addition to America
Type of the instrumentPercussion instrument
Other names Gourd rattles, Rumba shaker or Chac-Chac
Brief introduction about the Maracas origin


Timpani comes under the pitched type of percussion instruments. This instrument produces identifiable musical notes. In addition to this, the percussionist can make adjustments in the pitch quality of the Timpani. This is because, the Timpani has foot pedals to tighten or loosen the drumhead. Another name for the Timpani is the Kettle drum, owing to its shape.

Name of the instrumentTimpani
OriginSouthern and Western Europe
Type of the instrumentPitched Percussion instrument
Other names Kettle drums, Timps, Pauken
Brief description of Timpani- pitched percussion instrument

Final Thoughts

With this article, we ensure that you must have transcended the beginner level of information about Percussion instruments. However, we suggest you something more fun- join Podium’s Music courses and you will be pitch perfect in no time.

Piano and guitar are a breeze through Podium School’s expert guidance on the same. With your precious inputs, we might introduce a fully-fledged course in percussion instruments in the future! Stay tuned for more reads on Percussion instruments with Podium. Till then, adios amigos!

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