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Percussion: Part 1

Percussion: Part 1

Percussion is perhaps the most important section in a musical group. It allows the whole band to keep in time and drives forward a song. It is because of this that some all-percussion groups have become so popular, such as Stomp – currently performing in the West End of London. While this percussion heavy music might not be for everyone, it is undeniably a fundamental part of practically all music. This is one reason why it is so difficult for acapella groups to keep interest, since there is little percussive elements. This can be improved easily by adding a beatboxer to the group.

Playing percussion usually involves some kind of hitting action. Whether it is hitting a hollow object like a drum or hitting a metallic object like a xylophone, or even hitting a metal string. Often the sound produced is so deep that it does not have an audible note. This percussion is known as untuned percussion. Other instruments have a higher sound, which do have notes. These are known as tuned percussion instruments. Since pianos involve the hitting of metal strings to make sound, they are technically percussion instruments. They are also string instruments. Generally though these kinds of instruments are grouped separately as ‘keyboards’. Tuned percussive instruments can be a fun replacement for a piano in various different genres of music. Often, different styles of cultural music use tuned percussion as an alternative in this way. Gamelan music is a popular style in East Asia. Gamelan bands are made up of a variety of different percussive instruments, including gongs and metallophones which are hit with soft hammers. Traditional Caribbean music too uses steel drums as an alternative style of percussion. These are big metal drums which play a different note dependant on where on the instrument you hit them. Xylophones, another popular tuned percussion instrument are often used in the western world for sound effects and for children’s television theme tunes.

The difference in the notes played by tuned percussive instruments is, as in other musical instruments, related to the size of the thing being hit. On xylophones the metal bars that are struck get larger in size along the instrument. Each key of the piano key is attached to a slightly thicker string. The steel drum is a little different since its unique curved shape means that it plays different notes based on where about you hit it. This means that you can play various different notes all on just the one instrument.

Percussion is such a universal part of music that the instruments we know in this section actually all have their own unique histories, and originated from all over the world. Bongo drums, unlike the ones we’ve discussed so far, are famous for their part in traditional African music. Even the drums we know as part of the standard rock drum kit have their origins from all over the world. All of the instruments famous today go back thousands of years to around 6000 BC. Even the snare drum, which uses beads or metal snare wires to create a more typically modern sound. It’s interesting how we have now developed a standard idea of what percussion is, and I wonder if in the future percussion will develop further or whether the instruments which are popular now are here for good. In the next article on percussion, I’m going to be looking at the most standard percussion instrument there is – the drum kit, and how it is typically used.


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