Most people understand that percussion has to do with musical instruments, such as drums. However, it may surprise many persons to find out that it goes beyond what they may think of as percussion instruments. In reality, the term relates to any type of musical instrument that is used to produces sounds through means of striking, scraping or plucking the instrument.
When most people think of a percussion instrument, drums come to mind. This is because drums are often used to help maintain and accentuate the beat of a melody. Whether a set of bongo drums, a snare drum, or a full set of drums, the effect is created by striking the drum heads with either drumsticks, drum brushes, or with the fingertips.
Along with drums, many people recognize cymbals as being sources of percussion. Cymbals may be used as a separate instrument, or as part of a drum set. Typically, they are also used to help accentuate portions of the melody, sometimes adding a dramatic effect to the performance. When played in an orchestra or marching band, cymbals usually are placed at the rear of the procession.
There are a number of quick and easy to master percussion instruments. The tambourine, tablas (rhythm sticks) and maracas are examples of these simple but pleasant sounding additions to musical performances. Both maracas and the tambourine can be easily played using one hand, making it possible for one performer to play both instruments at the same time. Tablas usually either come in sets of two, or with one rhythm stick and a block. All three of these instruments are normally used as a means of keeping time with the music, acting as an added element to the total sound and also working in conjunction with drums to maintain the proper flow of the musical composition.
Percussion is usually associated with keeping a beat by striking or shaking an instrument, but plucking strings to create pleasing vibrations is also considered part of the experience. From this perspective, the harp qualifies as a percussion instrument. The melodic vibration patterns that are created from plucking the strings on a harp helps to maintain a sense of logical flow to the music, and draws the listener into the composition.
Whether speaking of well-known percussion instruments or regional examples of instruments de percussio, it is important to remember that all forms serve as supports to the melody of the musical composition. While never providing the main focus of the entire musical selection, it is often featured in one portion of the work in many genres. In just about every case, percussion is an important means of accentuating the melody and adding a finishing touch to the performance.