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What Is Acoustic Percussion?

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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2016
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Acoustic percussion can refer to two things. It can be the act of playing percussive patterns by lightly thumping on an acoustic guitar, or it can be percussion played on real musical instruments that physically make a sound. This is in contrast with virtual or digital percussion, which is a collection of electronically synthesized drum sounds that are either programmed into a percussion sequence or played live on an electronic percussion pad. Examples of acoustic percussion instruments include drums, cymbals, and other auxiliary percussion instruments that produce an organic sound from the body of the instrument.

Types of acoustic percussion instruments are many, and include any kind of drum or percussion accessory used in the percussive part of a musical piece. They can be bass drums, snare drums, and timpani drums, or they can be wood blocks, marimbas, and chime trees. An easy way to tell the difference between acoustic percussion and virtual percussion at a live show is to determine whether the percussion sounds originate from a musical instrument rather than an electronic device. If the sound comes from a drum or other percussion instrument, it is acoustic percussion. Sound originating from a computer or electronic sound device is digital percussion.

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Acoustic percussion is most often used at live shows by rock, jazz, and classical music groups. When a drummer is playing a set of drums and cymbals at a band concert, he is playing acoustic percussion. A percussionist using a drum machine to produce percussive sounds is using digital or electronic percussion.

Many pop artists use virtual percussion options like programmed beats from drum machines both for recording and live music, only relying on a live drummer for accents on some if any of their songs. While electronic drums do not make mistakes, they are powerless without electricity and an amplifier. They can be somewhat confusing for a beginner to program well and lend themselves to faltering caused by human error in programming beat patterns. Other advantages of acoustic percussion over programmed percussion include a more organic, less robotic sound to the beats.

The other type of acoustic percussion is a percussive beat made by tapping the hollow body of an acoustic guitar. This creates a thump that is diffuse and warm in timbre. Many musicians playing their acoustic guitars tap the guitar either to establish the beat or to provide a drum sound for an otherwise a capella song. The sound can be made by tapping the body of the guitar while it is held in playing position, or by laying the guitar flat against the lap. Drumming must be gentle enough to avoid damaging the guitar.

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