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Meet the Percussion Instruments Family

Imagine you’re painting. Brass, strings, and woodwinds are the strokes and blots of color on your canvas, while percussion instruments are the outer lines that anchor and define the piece, whether it’s classical or rock and roll. We’re covering a sampling of percussion basics including a few unusual instruments in our drum, cymbals, world percussion, and auxiliary categories.

One of our favorite percussion instruments is the African djembe.


The bass drum creates a deep booming sound that you can feel as well as hear. Because it has two strike surfaces (or "heads"), it can be played on both sides individually or at once.

Frequently used by the military and marching bands, the crisp, rattling sound from a snare drum offers a distinct rhythm and style.

For a synthesized sound, electronic drums and sets use electronic sensors to generate sound when struck by drumsticks or the hands.


Most commonly found in standard drum sets, ride cymbals produce a steady “ride” rhythmic pattern when struck with drumsticks.

Crash cymbals produce sharp and loud “crash” notes and are typically part of a complete drum set. 

Available in a variety of sizes, splash cymbals generate a sound that is reminiscent of the splashing of waves in an ocean.

A set of two cymbals mounted together for placement on a stand is called hihat. A foot pedal ignites the sound by triggering the top cymbal to tap against the fixed bottom cymbal.

World Percussion

Bare hands are all you need to play this versatile African drum. Known for its artistic assembly of hardwood, rawhide, and rope, a djembe stands out among percussion instruments for its beautiful craftsmanship and rich sound.

A common percussion instrument in mambo and salsa music, timbales produce a variety of sounds based on the player’s drum stroke. Some timbales are also available with auxiliary mounted instruments such as cowbells.

Buffalo drum
A relatively easy instrument to learn, a buffalo drum produces a full range of rhythmic sound. From deep vibrations to quietly clear tones, buffalo drum players strike the edge, center, and opposite side of the playing surface to generate the desired sound.  

Rain Stick
Inheriting its name from old Tibetan folklore, rain sticks are lightweight and durable percussion instruments that generate rain-like sounds when tilted at an angle.

A percussion instrument originating in 19th century Peru, cajons are known for their box shape and unique sounds that can be created by hands, sticks, brushes, or mallets.

Auxiliary Percussion

Popular in many types of folk music, the tambourine is a small handheld instrument with calfskin stretched across one side and small metal disks set around the edge of the wood circle. When wrapped around your knuckles or hand, the tambourine creates a jingling and thumping beat.

Created in the Caribbean, maracas are a favorite for early childhood educators. These instruments are crafted from gourds with loose seeds inside and may have a handle for shaking.

Triangle Beater
Designed to produce rhythms, rolls, and single notes, the triangle beater is a portable and graceful instrument to play.

Favored by orchestral musicians for their clear, resonating knocks, woodblocks are made entirely of exotic and native hardwoods.

For more information on percussion instruments or help choosing the one you'd like to learn, feel free to call to stop by our Fitchburg musical instruments showroom to talk with our music experts.