Can percussion instruments play melody? What is the melody? What are the percussion instruments that can be used in playing a melody? How can a percussion instrument play a melody? If you are intrigued by a percussion instrument, join us as we are going to have a light discussion if there is a possibility that a percussion instrument can be used in playing melodies or not. We are also going to define some basic terms like the word melody, percussion, and more. So, what are you waiting for? Stay tuned and read, as I believe you’ll learn more today.
So, first, what is a percussion instrument? It is a type of musical instrument that is able to make a sound when it is struck or hit by using a stick, mallet, beater, or even by your hand. The best example of percussion instruments is the snare drum, bass drum, timpani, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, celesta, and many more.
So, what are pitch and melody, then? Based on Merriam-Webster Dictionary, pitch is the property of a sound and especially a musical tone that is determined by the frequency of the waves producing it. With pitch, you are able to judge whether the sound is higher or lower.
On the other hand, melody, also called by many as tune, voice, or line, is said to be the most identifiable element of all musical compositions. So, literally, the melody is a combination of rhythm and pitch, and it is the foreground to its background accompaniment. A melody is often made up of one or more musical phrases, and they are usually repeated throughout the musical composition. Melodies can stand alone on their own or work together with other melodies, and you can notice them whether in a vocal passage, a guitar riff, or a saxophone run.
So, can percussion instruments play melody? Yes, there are some instruments that can play a melody. Percussion instruments are classified into two groups, and these are pitched, which are played with an identifiable pitch, and unpitched percussion instruments, which are played with an unidentifiable pitch. When it comes to playing melodies, it is usually the pitched percussion instruments that have the ability to play them. As this type of instrument is played with pitch, it is also understandable that it can be played with melodies.
Here are some of the pitched percussion instruments that can be played with melodies:
The first percussion instrument on our list, the timpani or also known by many as the kettledrums or timps, is a type of drum that has a membrane stretched all over a large bowl made of copper. Nowadays, musicians are using pedal timpani when playing on big stages or in recording studios, as they are easier to tune to specific pitches and are very accurate because of their movable foot pedal.
In a typical setup, the timpani is played by using a specialized stick called a timpani mallet or timpani stick. Using the stick, you will have to strike its membrane for it to produce a sound. Although it started as a musical instrument played in the military, the timpani has been an essential part of orchestra ensembles nowadays. It is known for its heavy bass sound that is able to resonate deep into your abdomen. As it has the ability to produce a definite pitch, it can also be used in playing melodies.
Another pitched percussion instrument on our list that can be used to play melodies is the marimba. The marimba is a percussion instrument that consists of wooden bars, and it is hit by using mallets for it to be able to produce a sound. With the help of resonator pipes under each bar, it is able to amplify specific harmonics of the instrument’s produced sound.
Because of its wooden bars, it is able to have a more mellow and softer tone and is also more muted with a short decay, making it more focused and more percussive. The marimba is also considered by many to be one of the earliest melodic musical instruments that humans ever made, as it is believed to have been widespread throughout Africa and Asia in the old days.
The bars in these percussion instruments are arranged in a chromatic manner, which has similarities to what you see on piano keys. Its narrower and shorter bars are known to produce higher-pitched notes, and as the size of the bars gets larger and taller, its notes are also getting lower and lower, making it possible to play melodies with the marimba.
The third percussion instrument that can be used in playing melodies is the vibraphone. It is a pitched percussion instrument that also belongs to the metallophone, and it consists of metal bars that are tuned and are struck by using mallets for it to produce a sound. A vibraphone is placed above a resonator and is able to deliver a unique tremolo effect. It even comes with a sustain pedal for additional effects.
The vibraphone is tuned similarly to a marimba, which is also a percussion instrument that can be used in playing melodies. It is known for having a long delay, thanks to its metal bars and huge resonating pipes, and it can also deliver a mellow with pure bell-like tones that you’ll surely love to listen to. So, as the vibraphone is tuned in a certain pitch, it can also be used in playing melodies.
One of the most famous percussion instruments in our list, the xylophone, is a musical instrument that is made of wooden or metal bars that are struck to produce a sound by using a pair of mallets. The said bars are arranged similarly to how piano keys are also arranged. As this percussion instrument is known to be an idiophone and is able to produce a sound through vibrating in itself, it is also tuned to a pitch, whether it is heptatonic, diatonic, pentatonic, or chromatic.
As the xylophone is tuned at a specific pitch, it also gives it the ability for it to be able to be used in playing melodies.
The next pitched percussion instrument that can be used in playing melodies on our list is the glockenspiel. Regarded by many musicians as a miniature xylophone, the musical instrument comes with either pitched steel or aluminum bars instead of the typical wood, and they are arranged in the same manner as how piano keys are also arranged. As it uses metal bars, the glockenspiel also belongs to the metallophone family, just like a vibraphone.
As it is played by striking its bars using hard mallets, it is known to produce a clear, bright, and high-pitched tone like tinkling bells, as the instrument is also sometimes called orchestra bells in orchestra ensembles. As it is tuned in a certain pitch, it also gives it the capacity for it to be used in playing melodies.
So, can percussion instruments play melody? Not all, but many percussion instruments can be used to play melodies. Most of them belong to the pitched percussion instruments group, as they are tuned at a certain pitch, which allows them to be used in playing melodies.