Percussion Instruments

Affecting cultures around the world

Percussion Instruments’ Impacts on Different Societies

Percussion Instruments are instruments that make certain sounds by either striking, shaking, plucking, or scraping. Percussion instruments are classified into many categories: tuned percussion, such as xylophones, marimbas, and timpani; untuned percussion, such as bass drums, snare drums, and crash cymbals; auxiliary percussion, such as slapsticks, tambourines, and temple blocks; latin percussion, such as congas, bongos, and maracas; and drum set instruments, such as hi-hats, snare drums, and tom-toms (Virginia Tech Multimedia Music). Throughout the world, percussion has been used in different cultures to express their culture’s values and add beats to the music.

In Africa, percussion is very important to African dance and spiritual music. African percussion contains rhythmic patterns that occur in different meters. Most African percussion instruments come from West Africa, but East Africa has many percussion instruments also. African percussion instruments consist of the axatse, a hollow instrument with a bead net, the balaphone, a tuned instrument from Guinea, The bougarabou, or the “African conga”, the caxixi, a shaker, the embaire, a xylophone, sabar drums, drums that are used to communicate with other villages through beats, and the talking drum, attached to a rope to change the pitch. Percussion is very essential to African culture through communication and music. African percussion has also affected popular musical styles in America, such as jazz (Drum!).

In South Asia, percussion is very important. Most South Asian percussion instruments come from India, and they make certain sounds to form grooves. Percussion is also used in the qawwali music of Pakistan and classical dance music of South India. Some South Asian percussion instruments include the dhol, a large drum used in Indian folk music, the Ghungroo, ankle bells for classical and folk dancers, the jaltarang, cups with different amounts of water to create different sounds, and the khartal, a pair of wooden blocks used as auxiliary for devotional music. South Asian percussion is very important in their culture by using it in dancing and music (Drum!).

Latin percussion originates from African styles. Many Latin percussion instruments come from Puerto Rico and have affected many different cultures, such as North and South American music. Latin percussion instruments consist of bongos, a set of drums used in salsa music, claves, a pair of clay sticks to keep the rhythm, congas, hand played barrel drums, maracas, shakers that are very common throughout Latin America, and the marimba, a keyboard played with mallets. Latin percussion instruments are crucial to the Latin culture, and are very commonly used in Cuban and Puerto Rican dances such as mambo, guajira, bomba, and much more (Drum!).

Middle East percussion is used in Mediterranean dances, such as adwar, mizan, iqa, and many more. Many Middle East percussion instruments make the sounds “dum, tek, or ka. The bendir, a hand played drum with leather for the head and snares underneath, the darbuka, a drum used in Arabic music made from ceramic metal, and zills, a pair of metallic finger cymbals used in belly dancing are the most common percussion instruments in the Middle East. Some North African instruments were influenced from Arabic music, which affected Persia, Turkey, and North African cultures (Drum!).

In South America, percussion instruments come from Africa and Europe. Some South American percussion instruments include the agogo bells, played with a stick, the cajon, a box drum, the reco reco, a bamboo cane scraped by a wood stick used in samba music, the tarol, a piccolo snare drum, and the zabumba, a double headed bass drum commonly used in Brazil. South American percussion instruments are used in the Argentine tango, the Colombian curullao, and Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador music (Drum!).

“Percussion instruments are found on every continent and in nearly every society around the world. Percussive traditions have shaped cultures and communities. Many percussion instruments in various countries are related, and therefore, musical evolution can be partially traced back through instruments themselves and their cultural contexts” (Virginia Tech Multimedia Music). When percussion changes, it is important to study the traditions from all around the world. Percussion instruments and their musical traditions are very important in order to understand percussion. When we play instruments respectively and traditionally it can shape our expression (Drum!). In all cultures, percussion instruments are used to communicate or express their culture’s values and musical styles.

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My African History (Not a real experience)

I thought back to my childhood, when I was in the African village on Kinjawa. My dad taught me about our culture, and how we used percussion to communicate with our neighboring village. I played the second sabar drum, out of the seven drums. Using different rhythms, we could tell the other villages if they were in danger.

One hot morning, my friend Punjab and I heard footsteps in the woods behind our village, and we ran through weeds and grasses to find where the sound was coming from. "Look!" I said, as we got closer to the sound, "I see something!" When we caught up to the sound, we noticed the strangely pale men with nice clothes on, holding a large rope and net. They shouted strange words and charged at us. I looked wide eyed at Punjab and sprinted back toward the village, scraping myself on branches.

"I have to save my family," I thought, dashing to my sabar drum. I began to play the warning rhythm, rum-ka-ta-rum-ta-ta, over and over again. People started running out of their huts, staring at me, startled. "White people are coming to capture us!" I shouted as loud as I could. I had to warn everybody. I could feel their footsteps coming closer and closer. I screamed for everyone to run, and we darted west to escape the slave catchers. 5 miles back, I could hear faint screams. I tried to block out the screams of my people being captured, until I heard a familiar voice. I heard Punjab yell for help, but I knew I couldn't go back. "Punjab!" I screamed as I fell to the ground. I felt sick to my stomach.

"Kuntakinte!" My father shouted at me, "get up!"

"What's the point anymore?" I cried.

"You have to get up," his calm voice spoke, "Punjab would have wanted you to go on." Sobbing, I picked myself up and started running again.

The next morning, we arrived safely at the village of Jobala, with no sign of the slave catchers.

"Good job, son," my dad exclaimed, with a smile on his face, "you saved our village!"

I thought about his words for a long time, but now I realize that even though I lost some of my friends, I saved a lot of people from my village and our neighboring village from the sabar drums. I feel extremely proud of myself, and I now know what it is like to be a real African percussionist.


- 6000 BC

  • The earliest drums are dated to

- Middle Ages (1475-1599)

  • Common instruments in this time period were bells, jingles, tambours, and timpani.
  • The "ancestors" of percussion.
  • Percussion instruments at this time were played at weddings, festivals, social events, and also whenever people needed inspiration.

- Renaissance (1600-1819)

  • Common instruments in this time period were tabors, timbrels, long drums, jingle bells, snare drums, and Monk bells.
  • Percussion instruments in this time period were much more advanced than in the middle ages.
  • Drums were used in military battles for the first time.
  • During this time period, percussion instruments were often played with singers and dancers.

- Classical (1820-1899)

  • Common instruments in this time period were kettle drums, vibraphones, snare drums, gongs, whips, triangles, marimbas, and tambourines.
  • Percussion in bands and orchestras were very popular in this time period.
  • Cymbals were added to orchestras to add more excitement and energy to the music.
  • The snare drum became the main percussion instrument.

- Modern (1900-Present)

  • Drum set parts now only needed 1 drummer.
  • Percussion spread to many different kinds of music.
  • The electronic drum set was invented.
  • Percussion instruments became more advanced.

Works Cited

  • Expository Essay

Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary. Music Technology, 1996. Web. 14 May 2013. <>.

Drum! DRUM! Magazine, July 2010. Web. 16 May 2013. <>.

  • Collage

African percussion. 123RF. 123RF, 29 May 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Alfredo Chacón in Concert. FUNDarte. FUNDarte, 2009. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Baker, Melvin. “Nigerian Drummers.” Flickr. Paula Thomas, 2004. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Carlos Maldonado. Meinl Percussion. ROLAND MEINL MUSIKINSTRUMENTE GMBH & CO. KG, 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Dubai Drums. The Content Factory. The Content Factory, 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

“Julio D’Santiago Venezuelan Drummer-percussionist.” Julio D’Santiago. Julio D’Santiago, 2008. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

The drummers played in rhythm for 15 minutes yesterday afternoon and a video of the event will be sent to officials at Guinness World Records. What’s on Shenzhen. Whats On Shenzhen, 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Percussion Instruments. KCSG Television. Radiate Media, 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

  • Timeline

Hamby, Alex. “Timeline of Drums.” History of Drums and Percussion. weebly, n.d. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.