Are percussion instruments pitched? What is a pitched percussion instrument? Are there also unpitched percussion instruments? What are some examples of pitched and unpitched percussion instruments? So, if you are unfamiliar with pitched percussion instruments and why they are called that, join us as we are going to have a short discussion about the topic.
So, what is a pitched percussion instrument? Also known to many as a melodic or tuned percussion instrument, it is a type of percussion instrument that is known to produce musical notes of one or more pitches. On the opposite, there is also an unpitched percussion instrument, which is played and is able to produce sounds of indefinite pitch. All in all, pitched percussion is an instrument that has a musical pitch.
So, are percussion instruments pitched? Yes, and if you do not know any percussion instruments that are pitched, then here are some of the examples that you should know about:
First on our list is the xylophone. I know that most people know what a xylophone is; however, if you do not know anything about it or you maybe have not seen it, a xylophone is a musical instrument that belongs to the percussion family and is made of wooden or metal bars that are struck to produce a sound using a pair of mallets.
The wooden or metal bars are arranged similarly to what you see on piano keys. The bars are known as idiophones, and they are tuned to a pitch of a musical scale, whether it is chromatic, pentatonic, diatonic, or heptatonic. So, this makes a xylophone a pitched percussion instrument.
The xylophone has been an integral part, especially in the modern-day orchestra setup nowadays, and more and more composers are using the musical instrument as their showcase instrument in their works.
Another pitched percussion instrument on our list is the vibraphone. The vibraphone is a percussion instrument that belongs to the metallophone family and is made of tuned metal bars and is usually played using mallets to hit and strike the said bars. It is placed above a resonator and comes with a motor-driven, rotating vane that is able to produce a unique tremolo effect. It also has a sustain pedal to sustain the bars’ sound when it is down and is able to produce a muted sound when it is up.
Usually, vibraphones have 3 to 4 octaves in range and are known for having a long delay due to their metal bars and massive resonating pipes. It is also tuned similarly to a marimba, resulting in a more mellow sound from it, making it a pitched percussion instrument. Vibraphones are usually used in playing jazz pieces, as they have been used by some renowned artists, such as Lionel Hampton.
As mentioned earlier, the marimba is also a pitched percussion instrument. So, what is a marimba? It is a musical instrument under the percussion family that is composed of wooden bars and is struck by using mallets for it to produce a sound. Under each bar is a resonator pipe that is able to amplify specific harmonics of the marimba’s produced sound. It is also known for its deeper and warmer timbre and is more resonant than xylophones and others.
The bars in a marimba are arranged in a chromatic manner, which is similar to what you see in piano keys. Its wider and longer bars are known to produce the lower pitched notes, and as the size of the bars gets narrower and shorter, its notes are also getting higher and higher. Most marimbas used in concerts come with a 4.3 to 5-octave range and are popular for their longer decay.
Another pitched percussion instrument on our list, the Glockenspiel, is considered by many as a miniature xylophone and comes with pitched steel or aluminum bars instead of wood, and is arranged in a similar manner to what you see in keyboard layouts. With this setup, the Glockenspiel is also considered to be a metallophone, like a vibraphone, aside from being a pitched percussion instrument.
This musical instrument is played using hard mallets to strike the bars, as it is known to produce a bright, clear, and high-pitched tone like tinkling bells, which can usually be heard in wind ensembles, marching bands, orchestras, and popular music. The Glockenspiel is only limited to higher notes and usually covers the 2.5 to 3-octave ranges only, although there are some high-end glockenspiels that can reach the 3.5 mark.
Although obsolete, it is still important to know that there is a pitched percussion instrument like a marimbaphone that existed in the old days. So, what is a marimbaphone? It is a musical instrument that uses either shallow steel or wooden bars and is played using mallets by hitting it to produce a sound. The bars are arranged chromatically and come with a tube resonator under each of them for a louder sound. The instrument’s timber is close to a celesta and is usually played in bands or in solo performances.
It is known for its longer decay and covers a range of 2.125 to 4.5 octaves. The musical instrument can also be played by more than one performer, allowing for more playing techniques to be executed at the same time. Although the marimbaphone was invented in the early 20th century, the instrument was replaced by the invention of the vibraphone in 1927, resulting in the ceasing of the existence of the musical instrument.
Also sometimes spelled as celeste, this musical instrument is a percussion instrument that is similar to an upright piano. It is also considered to be an idiophone as it is able to deliver a sound as it vibrates through itself. Although it also has some similarities with the glockenspiel, its difference is that its keys have pressed that hammer the playing surface. Invented by Auguste Mustel in the 19th century, the instrument is composed of metal bars, making it also a metallophone, aside from being a pitched percussion instrument.
As a transposing instrument, it has a higher octave sound than the written pitch. As it comes in different sizes, it also covers different ranges from 3 to 5.5 octaves. The celeste also has been used by many composers in their works, making it an integral part of orchestral performances. Although it is a percussion instrument, it is usually included in the keyboard section, as it is played by a keyboardist.
What Are Unpitched Percussion Instruments
So, what is an unpitched percussion instrument? It is a percussion instrument that is played in a way that is able to produce a sound with an indeterminate pitch. Also known as untuned, this type of instrument has no definite pitch, unlike those pitched percussion instruments that have a definite pitch.
Some examples of unpitched percussion instruments are the bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, castanets, triangle, gong, maracas, rattles, and many more.
So, are percussion instruments pitched? There are some percussion instruments that are pitched, and there are also some that are unpitched. Like xylophones, vibraphones, marimbas, and more, these percussion instruments are played at a certain pitch, making them pitched percussion instruments.