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What Are the Different Types of Percussion Music?

A triangle is a percussion instrument.
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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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There exist untold quantities and types of percussion instruments in the world, all providing their own incomparable sound and spirit in a piece of music. Like herbs in a recipe, each instrument lends its own flavor that constitutes a certain musical style. Despite the vast differences between all percussion instruments, musicians generally organize the types of music based on the sound the instrument makes. The most recognized type of percussion music is the membranophonic style, or drum style, in which sound is made from beating the surface of a stretched membrane. Other percussion music styles include idiophonic, aerophonic and chordophonic types.

Membranophonic percussion includes "membranophones" in which the sound vibrates throughout the entire instrument. Examples of such instruments include a wide variety of drums, from the timpani and kettle drums of the formal orchestra to the snare and bass drums of the high school band. The djembe and mridangam of the African and Indian ensembles are also included in this group. Membranophones are constructed of a membrane secured around the rim of a rigid, hollow housing. Early percussionists crafted their instruments from animal skins and wood or clay.

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Idiophonic percussion refers to percussion instruments that resonate vibrations throughout the body of the instrument when stuck. Idiophones do not have membranes like membranophoic instruments. These idiophonic instruments may be struck, plucked, blown, scraped or rubbed, but the common denominator among them all is the full-body vibration effect. The xylophone, chimes, triangle, cajón, casaba and various hand bells are all idiophones. Such percussion instruments may be constructed of glass, wood, and dried or baked clay or metal.

Aerophonic and chordophonic constitute the remaining two classifications of percussion music. As the name suggests, aerophones use moving air blown by the percussionist to produce sound. These instruments may be classified as wind instruments, but are also considered percussion because they are often used by musicians for percussion effects. Examples of aerophones include the slide whistle, the apita or samba, and the siren.

Chordophones are stringed instruments that function as percussion instruments when struck. The most notable of chordophonic music is the globally recognized hammered dulcimer. Like the piano, which is another chordophonic instrument, strategically-placed strings stretch across the frame. The musician strikes the strings with a small mallet to produce sound. Other chordophones include the eastern onavillu and cimbalom — a large type of dulcimer for concerts and symphonies.

Percussion instruments are perhaps the oldest type of instruments known to man. Any person can pick up a hammer or stick and pound out a cacophony of sounds, but percussion music is unique in that the instrument provides a tempered, regular, musical beat. The word "percussion" comes from the Latin percussus, meaning "to strike or to beat." It refers to the musical cadence produced when a percussion instrument is handled by a musician.

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