How do percussion instruments make sound? What are percussion instruments? How do percussion instruments make their vibration? What do percussion instruments have in common? When it comes to percussion, I believe there are still many out there who are not familiar with this family of instruments, so as a musician myself, I will take responsibility for giving you some general information on what a percussion instrument is, how they work, and what they have in common with each other.
What Are Percussion Instruments
So, what are percussion instruments? A percussion instrument is a type of musical instrument that produces a sound when it is struck by using a beater, a stick, or even with your hands and your fingers. The percussion instruments are considered by many to be one of the oldest instruments in the history of mankind. It plays a rhythmic role in all of the genres you can imagine, so its importance is surely beyond measure.
Where And When Did The Percussion Originated
So, when and where did the percussion instruments really originate? Based on history, one of the earliest examples found are idiophones made using mammoth bones and are found in present-day Belgium. It can be estimated that these percussion instruments originated in 70,000 B.C., and as idiophones, it means that they produce their sound from the vibration of the entire musical instrument.
As one of the most common forms of the percussion family, the drums are also believed to have been first introduced in China in the year 5,500 B.C., and they are made of alligator skins. There are also some pieces of evidence found from civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks, and Romans, that the drums have been widely used as musical instruments, especially in religious ceremonies and cultural events. There is also some evidence that these prehistoric drums are played using hands and beaters.
The history of the kettle drum or also known as the timpani, can be traced from its Egyptian and Turkish roots, while the classical bass drum’s history can also be traced back to its history from the Ottoman empire. The drum kit that you also usually see in performances nowadays can be traced back to the classical European instruments in the old days.
For the five-piece modern drum kits, it really started in the early 20th century in New Orleans, where some of the renowned jazz drummers in the area, such as Warren Dodds, assembled a drum kit using some classical instruments. As they needed to make some adjustments, it was also the start of having a bass drum in a drum kit. There was a need to know how percussion instruments make sound.
How Do Percussion Instruments Make Their Vibration
So, how do percussion instruments make their vibration? As we all know that percussion instruments produce their sound with the help of vibration, as when the instrument is struck by a mallet, stick, or hand, its produced sound is amplified by the whole hollow body of the percussion instrument. So, depending on how hard or how soft you have struck the instrument, it will also depend on how loud the volume is going to be produced.
Remember that there are two kinds of percussion instruments based on how they produce their sound, respectively: the first is an idiophone, and the second is a membranophone. An idiophone is able to produce its sound through the vibration with its entire body, while a membranophone is able to produce a sound when its membrane or head is struck using a hand, stick, mallet, beater, or any other tools possible.
How Do Some Percussion Instruments Make A Sound
Here are some of the perfect examples of a percussion instrument and let’s discuss how do they sound:
The most common and possibly famous of all the percussion instruments, the drum, is a musical instrument with so much versatility, as it can be used in any type of musical application you can think of and is perfect for any number of audiences watching. The drum kit has been a mainstay part of all band performances since many years ago, and I do not see any factors that can change it, but how can you make them sound?
When you hit the drum head by using a stick or mallet, or even a brush, its skin vibrates, resulting in a rapid compression and expansion of air below and above it. The sudden and quick expansion and compression of air turn into immediate changes in air pressure. The change in air pressure is where the sound is produced, and its waves travel through the air until you hear them with your ears.
A familiar percussion instrument with many musicians, the xylophone is able to produce a sound when its metal or wooden bars are struck using a mallet. The pitch produced by the musical instrument also depends on the length of the bar. In general, shorter bars are able to produce a higher pitch, while longer bars are capable of having a deeper pitch.
To amplify its sound, a xylophone usually comes with tube resonators underneath the bars. As the air is pushed into the resonator tubes, which results in more vibration, a similar pitch is also produced by the bar struck. Lastly, a cord is usually placed across the center of the xylophone to lift the bars from the frame and allow them to move and vibrate freely.
Similar to a xylophone, the metallophone is made of metal and is composed of tuned tubes, metal rods, bars, and bowls that are struck according to what is provided in the music sheet. For it to produce a sound, it is hit using a mallet, which can also be done with the help of friction, keyboard action, or any other means.
Although it can produce an oddly hollow sound that is high-pitched, when struck correctly, you can expect that it will give you some amazing sound that you can surely integrate into your music, but if only done properly.
Although it has a similar look to a xylophone, the marimba can be more complex to play with, as it is also unique on its own. To play the marimba, you will need to have a pair or more mallets and strike its tone plates for it to sound. Musicians that are experts in playing the instrument use two to three mallets per hand at the same time.
The musical instrument produces a warm, deep, rich, and mellow sound if played properly. It also has a darker and softer tone compared to a xylophone. With the help of resonators below its plate, its resonant sound can last up to two to three seconds. Its pitch, whether high or low it sounds, will also depend on the thickness, length, and density of each tone plate.
Another percussion instrument in our list that has some physical similarities and is usually mistaken to be a xylophone, the glockenspiel, is also similar to a xylophone in the method of how it is played. A glockenspiel comes with metal bars, and they are arranged into two layers or more layers. Just like a xylophone, you will also have to hit the bars for the glockenspiel to produce a sound using a mallet.
Each metal bar represents a different sound, so when you hit it using a mallet, you expect a different sound, as it is designed to have a slightly different sound with the different rows regularly.
Categorized as one of the percussion instruments, the timpani has played a vital part and has played a major role in most orchestras throughout the years of its existence. Its head is usually either made of animal skin or plastic film and is usually tuned using a pedal. Its head is stretched over a massive bowl that is usually made of copper, making it look like a kettle.
By using a mallet to hit the drumhead or membrane, this causes the material to vibrate, and the vibration that was produced is then transmitted to the shell to make the timpani resonate with sound. As you adjust the tightness of the drumhead, its pitch also changes, which makes it a pitched percussion instrument. Although you can use most types of a stick in playing the timpani, it is usually played using a particular type of stick named timpani mallet.
The cymbal is one of the most popular percussion instruments in the world and has been important to the musical instrument family, as you can usually see it with a drum kit or held by a musician in an orchestra setup. Each cymbal does not have the same pitch and sound that they produce, which makes them unique; however, it also does not mean that they cannot sound great.
In an orchestral setup, to make a pair of cymbals sound, you need to strike them with each other; however, when playing with drums, you will need to hit the cymbal using a drumstick. As it is known to be able to generate a resonant vibration, the cymbal is able to produce a sound as it vibrates while its center is still motionless.
When a cymbal is struck and is able to produce a large number of inharmonic partials, it can deliver a sound that can be harsh to hear from, as its oscillation frequency is too high. It is also difficult to assess the pitch of a cymbal, as it usually depends on the alloy that is used in making them and how much weight is used.
The conga or also known by others as tumbador, is a narrow and tall, single-headed drum that originated in Cuba. These musical instruments are staved similarly to barrels and are commonly classified into three types: quinto, tres dos, and tumba. Nowadays, the conga is a popular percussion instrument used in many forms of Latin music, such as salsa, merengue, Latin rock, songo, and many more.
To play the conga, it is usually by using your own hands. However, there are many types of strokes that you can play with using tonga. By using your fingertips to strike and press the head, it can produce a high sound when you hit it near the rim of the conga, while it will produce a low sound when you hit it close to its center. This is how this percussion instrument makes sounds.
When playing the conga with a closed slap, as your relaxed and slightly cupped hand strikes near the conga’s rim and your fingertips strike the center of the conga, then you can expect a short, sharp, and high-pitched sound from it. As you also try to strike the conga at the same spot, but you press the skin harder, you can expect a shorter and higher-pitched sound from your conga.
Similar to a conga; however, they are more portable to bring with them, and you can see more people carrying them with them when playing; the bongo drums also use a drumhead or membrane, and it is stretched overall its shell. So, to make it produce its distinctive sound, which it is famous for, you will need to strike the drumhead using your fingers and hands.
So, when you hear a bongo produce its sound, you should know that it comes from its vibrating drumhead, which vibrates its surrounding air, resulting in it producing a sound. If you can also notice a ringing sound from the bongo, it typically comes from its shell. This also usually happens when you are able to hit the bongo’s edge, or called the bearing edge.
A perfect alternative if you do not have a drum kit or you prefer to have an acoustic essence with your playing, the Cajon is usually used in these types of situations, as it does also have a lower volume compared to an acoustic drum kit. Believed to have originated with the enslaved Afro-Peruvians, the Cajon is a wooden drum box where it is designed for the player to be able to sit on it and strike it on its sides for it to produce a sound.
There is a side of the Cajon that is called tappa, where musicians usually strike. It is thinner compared to all other sides, which makes it a nice surface to hit with your hands. The Cajon has a hole cut from its back wall for it to be able to produce a better sound. There are also some Cajons where you can adjust their sound, timber, and tuning.
As a member of the membranophone, which is under the percussion instrument family, the djembe is a musical instrument from West Africa that is designed for its head or membrane to be hit or struck for it to produce a sound. The djembe is made of hollow wood, and its head is stretched over the top. The head is usually made of goatskin; however, modern djembe usually uses synthetic skins nowadays.
So, when its tight and stretched skin is struck or hit using your hands or fingers, you can expect for it to produce a sound. When the head is struck, it reverberates, and the shape of the hollow body of the djembe acts as its amplifier, resulting in it projecting the sound out from the bottom of the shell. To play the notes you are aiming for, you will also need to hit it differently with different spots and hands.
What Do Percussion Instruments Have In Common?
So, what do percussion instruments have in common? When it comes to percussion instruments, the most common thing about them is that they are able to produce a sound when they are struck by using a stick, a mallet, or with the use of fingers and hands. They are also used to being able to keep the rhythm when playing a piece of certain music. It also produces a special sound and is able to add excitement to the listeners.
So, how do percussion instruments make sound? All percussion instruments are able to make sound when they are struck by using a mallet, stick, or your own hands, as the impact produces a vibration, and it turns into sound, which is amplified by a percussion instrument’s hollow body. So if you hit it stronger, you can also produce for it to sound louder, and if you hit softer, then you can expect a softer sound from it.