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Instruments of the orchestra - Percussion

Hit it, bang it, strike it! Learn more about the instruments that constitute the percussion section
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - April 22, 2010
By: Goh Mei Yi
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Instruments of the orchestra - Percussion

In comparison with the rest of the orchestra, members of the percussion section look like they’ve got some of the easiest jobs. Depending on the piece of music, they could spend most of the time doing nothing and only play a few bars of music throughout the concert. Other times, they can be seen running between instruments non-stop if the music calls for it.

Percussion instruments had a very small part in the music written during the Classical period by composers like Haydn and Mozart. At most, a pair of timpani was included. However, the role of percussion started to evolve in the mid-19th century as a greater variety of instruments was used and also used more frequently. In 20th century classical music and beyond, percussion is often employed to produce rhythm and textural effects to create impressionist soundscapes.

A percussion instrument can be defined as any object which produces a sound by being hit with something, such as a mallet or stick; shaken or scraped. Instruments can be classified as tuned (or pitched) and untuned (or unpitched).

Pitched instruments include the timpani, marimba, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone and tubular bells. They produce an obvious fundamental pitch and can play a melody. Others like the cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, gongs, triangle, tambourine and castanets are unpitched.

The timpani, also known as the kettle drums, are often used in many pieces of music, so most orchestras have a dedicated timpani player. He or she is kept busy throughout the concert tuning each drum to the desired pitch by changing the tension in the drum head via the foot pedals located at the base of the drum.

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