Percussion Instruments

The AWESOME! page has random music stuff that I think is cool. You never know what you will find here!

For me, percussion instruments contribute a major part of my enjoyment of music. I’m a toe-tapper, finger-snapper and head-bobber, keeping the beat of the rhythm of the music – and percussion instruments usually drive that sound.

So what makes something a percussion instrument? Wiki defines it as “a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater including attached or enclosed beaters or rattles struck, scraped or rubbed by hand or struck against another similar instrument.” They can be pitched (in other words, they produce musical notes with a pitch) or unpitched. They are the oldest musical instruments, next to the human voice.

So how many are there? Wiki lists 340 different percussion instruments, ranging from the Aburukuwa (a high pitched talking drum used by the Akan people of Ghana) to Zills (finger cymbals used by belly dancers).

Some you’re familiar with, but you may not even realize they are percussion instruments. Included in the list are body percussion (including something called “Ethiopian armpit music” – apparently Ethiopia has a special skill at that), cannon (used in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture), cowbell (we need more cowbell!), fiddlesticks (while a fiddler fiddles, a second person uses a pair of sticks to tap a rhythm over the upper fingerboard), jawbone (made from the jawbone of a donkey or cattle, it makes a buzzing sound when the teeth rattle against the bone), musical saw (I remember as a kid watching people perform the saw – amazing to hear the melodies that they can produce), and turntable (where would hip hop be without the DJ scratching out sounds from the turntable?).

Symphony orchestras have a percussion section which provides an important element to classical music. Instruments that are commonly found in orchestras include the timpani, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, maracas, gong, chimes, castanets, and celesta.

In popular music, the drums are the most obvious percussion instrument. Whether it’s rock, jazz, grunge, new wave, techno, R&B – all genres utilize the drums to drive the beat. Alas, more and more today, the drummer is not part of the picture – the drum machine has replaced the drummer in much of today’s recorded popular music. I suppose artists like the fact that computers can keep the perfect beat – plus you don’t have to worry about the drummer showing up to work drunk or stoned!

My personal favorite percussion instrument in rock music is the gong. I always thought that a great way to end a great classic rock song was to bang the gong. The gong at the end of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is the perfect way to end that song! The gong tended to be more prevalent in progressive rock songs – Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues, Toccata by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Miracles Out of Nowhere by Kansas, Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, A Passage to Bangkok by Rush, several Led Zeppelin songs – all feature the gong to make good songs great.

Which brings me to my pick of the greatest drummer of all time. Sorry Zeppelin fans, Jon Bonham comes in second. My fave – Neil Peart from Rush. This dude played drums like no one else. Peart retired in 2015 – tendonitis and shoulder problems took its toll, and he died in January 2020 from brain cancer. Watch this performance of YYZ by Rush – Peart’s drum solo starts at 3:30. And for more on Rush – see my post from April 18, 2018 (and watch the video to see another Peart drum solo).



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