Top 10 Western Percussion Instruments in 2021: a quick guide

Some Western Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments are the oldest man-made musical instruments. Percussion Instruments are musical instruments that produce music based upon percussion. The family of percussion musical instruments includes those which require the use of methods like striking, rubbing, shaking or friction for playing them. Indian percussion instruments are the ones having their origin in India, whereas, Western percussion instruments have their origin in Western and European countries.

  1. Clappers
  2. Rattles
  3. Castanets
  4. Tambourine
  5. Gongs
  6. Timpani
  7. Cymbals
  8. Bells
  9. Jew’s Harp
  10. Snare drum

In this article, we are going to get a brief detail about western percussion instruments and make ourselves aware of the history of western percussion instruments. Let us proceed further and discuss the classification of the percussion family of musical instruments.

Classification of Western Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments are chiefly classified into two categories,

  1. Idiophones
  2. Membranophones

Idiophones produce sound due to the vibration of their own substance. Some of them include Bells, Rattles, and Clappers. Membranophones, as the name suggests, produce sound by the vibration or stretching of an elastic membrane upon percussion. The chief example includes Drums.

Let us move ahead and discuss some of the western percussion instruments in brief.

Various types of Western percussion instruments
Some Western Percussion Instruments


Clappers are an example of western percussion instruments falling under the Idiophones category. The vibrating substance in these instruments varies from pieces of metals to bones. To produce musical sounds from clappers, one needs to hold them in hands and then strike or rub them against each other. Egyptians introduced Ivory-made clappers in Europe.

Ivory made European Clappers
Ivory made European Clappers


Another example of Idiophones category percussion instruments found in European countries chiefly is Rattles. The constitution of Rattles is very simple. There are two pieces of resonant objects and they are tied together with the help of strings. People of many Western countries believe that Rattles hold spiritual values. According to them, Rattles possess supernatural powers to fight against Evil.

A Rattle
A Rattle


Another example of a western percussion instrument that falls under the category of Idiophones is castanets. These are subtypes of Clappers, and consist of hollow shapes made up of metals, hardwood, or ivory. The playing method of these instruments is similar to that of Clappers, played by striking against each other. Many Western orchestras use Castanets to enhance the Spanish flavour in their musical pieces.

Castanets are western percussion instruments
Castanets- Example of Western percussion instruments


The term ”Tambourine” typically refers to the narrow shell frame drums having origin in European countries. Its single skin is glued to a circular or polygonal frame. European literature sites the playing of tambourine by both, males as well as females. To play the Tambourine, one needs to hold it with bare hands and play along with the jingles and snares.

Illustration of Tambourine with snares and jingles
Illustration of Tambourine with snares and jingles


Gongs are another example of percussion instruments having their origin in western countries. These are circular metal disks. One should strike the centre of the gong with a leather beater to produce musical sounds. Western orchestras use Flat Gongs very commonly.


Kettle drums is another name for Timpani. These are typically large drums. To play the Timpani, one needs to strike them with a feather mallet. Timpani also has foot pedals attached to them that help in adjusting the pitch of the sound produced. The pedals either tightens or loosens the drum head.


These percussion instruments fall under the Membranophones category. These are typically made up of brass. Cymbals are of various sizes and shapes. Some examples of Cymbals include Crash Cymbal, Ride Cymbal, Hi-hat Cymbal, and Finger Cymbal. These are held in pairs and are made to slide against each other producing characteristic sounds.

Bells- percussion instruments

Typical metal-made bells were first introduced in European countries from China. Bells are another example of western percussion instruments, although, these vary greatly in origin, forms, and playing methods. Bells are of two chief types:

  • Cup bells- These have their body closed at one end and open at another end.
  • Crotals- These have entirely closed bodies and often have clappers, jingles, pellets inside them.

Jew’s Harp

This percussion instrument’s name might be a little misguiding as it seems to have its association with Jewish countries. But that’s not the case. These are also called Jaw Harp or Khomus. Western classical musical pieces of literature cite their use in playing melodious music in western orchestras.

Snare drum

This is another example of western percussion instruments under the category of Membranophones. Snare drums are small drums made up of wood or brass. The drum heads are either made of stretchable elastic sheets or calfskin. Snare drums are different from drums because these have strings attached in between the two drum heads at both ends. It is due to this reason, Snare drums can produce their characteristic “rattling” sound distinct from the drums. One can play the Snare drum by beating on its drum head with the help of drum sticks or mallets.

Snare Drum
Snare Drum

Summary of Western Percussion Instruments

Being among the oldest man-made musical instruments, the family of percussion musical instruments is of great historic significance. Both the types of percussion instruments, the Idophones and the Membranophones, are found to be an integral part of western musical culture since the renaissance period. The modern forms of these western percussion instruments differ a lot from the original ones. Percussion instruments and the methods of playing them, both have evolved and improvised in the due course of time.

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