For many, the percussion instrument family has its roots in pop culture and history. The drumming of a war drum or that of a snare drum in marching band are very different but the feeling comes from that instrument, or for that matter, that group of instruments.
For a lot of people who play percussion instruments, it’s clear that wind instruments aren’t the best choice because they would rather support the band with the necessary rhythm and beat compared to the roles of other instruments.
If you’re interested in learning about the drums or any percussion instrument for that matter, keep on reading.
Playing the drum is one of the easiest instrument to learn for adults, but keep in mind: just because you’re not using air doesn’t mean you won’t need skill when it comes to the drums. Whether you’re learning on a snare drum or you decided to jump right into a drum set, there are a few things that you should keep in mind when deciding what percussion instrument to play. There are a variety of factors, including:
- Prior Music Experience
- Prior percussion experience
- Concentration and Level of Commitment
- Player Fatigue
- Age and Player Size
For parents looking for the best snare drum, looking at everything from the drums to the xylophone, or for those looking to get into percussion music in general, keeping these variables in mind is important while you make your decision.
If you are an experienced musician and you have history with percussion instruments or are looking for change in play style, this guide will help you understand the necessary changes you will have to undergo to learn an instrument in the percussion family, and will provide relevant information for those who already play.
We go into great detail below on the best percussion instruments based on your needs, so just keep on reading!
- 1 Things to Consider When Choosing a Percussion Instrument
- 2 Different Types of Percussion Instruments
- 3 Conclusion
Things to Consider When Choosing a Percussion Instrument
Prior Music Experience/Percussion Experience
Of course having prior percussion experience will make learning any sort of percussion instrument easier; heck, you might even already know how to play a lot of the instruments in the percussion family, especially since most percussionist have to double or even triple (or even quadruple!) on parts for a variety of reasons.
These reasons could include:
- A Lack of Percussion Players
- Too Many Parts for the Existing Percussionists
- A Desire to Learn a Variety of Instruments
For those with prior music experience but no percussion experience, you are entering into a whole new world. The world of the percussion family is so uniquely different from that of a woodwind or brass instrument; from paradiddles to rhythms and everything else, you will basically be starting from scratch. When it comes to percussion, there are some similarities like clefs and if you know how to play keyed instruments some percussion instruments use the same keys and notation. However, you will have a hard time jumping straight from a trumpet to a drum set more than you would a snare drum from to a drum set.
Concentration & Level of Commitment
All instruments in the band, regardless of skill or type, will require practice and perfect practice. Poor practice methods lead to problematic player induced stress and can hinder progress.
Practice is unavoidable, especially if you are out of school and you wish to hone in on an instrument. Middle and High School students and College students can get by with less practice, but it is still recommended that you practice everyday for at least a half-hour and especially more if you are a college student because you have higher standards than that of a middle school or high school band student.
With that being said, most percussionist learn on the snare drum, have a history of piano or other keyed instruments, or both. You don’t need to know piano to learn percussion, but it does come in handy when you start getting into a keyed instruments such as the xylophone.
If you are an experienced percussionist you will not have as much of an issue learning a new percussion instrument compared to a woodwind player.
This is where the amount of necessary practice and commitment comes into play.
Let me give you an example: Learning how to play another percussion instrument will be far easier for an experienced percussonist than a newbie or a wind player.
- If you already have snare drum experience or other percussion experience you will know how to read the sheet music. The sheet music for drums uses a variety of symbols to represent sounds rather than notes in the staff and ledger are used differently than wind instruments.
- You already know how to do a lot of the methods, such as paradiddles, and you can apply this knowledge to the drum set whereas wind players cannot and must learn these strategies.
I use the drum set as a primary example only because it pertains more to a lot of people than a snare drum or the cymbals. Regardless of the instrument, however, these principles apply and you must keep this in mind.
Player fatigue is a different world when it comes to percussion; for wind instruments, player fatigue might seem like blown chops for a brass player or problems with a reed due to playing for a long time for a woodwind.
The player fatigue for a percussionist is more physically fatiguing than other instruments and it’s obvious why: you’re physically moving your arms to create sound or your feet or variety of both. Over time, this actually burns calories and playing drum set vigorously can actually be a decent workout. This shouldn’t be substituted for legitimate exercise; we are not doctors, only musicians, so take this with a grain of salt. 🙂
Age and Player Size
A lot of players learning percussion start on the snare drum either at the end of Elementary School or the beginning of Middle School. This is a great time and a formative period for students and so music is often introduced at this age because of this reason.
For smaller children, xylophone or even learning the piano is recommended because of its simplicity and ease of access. It’s harder to teach music theory and drum techniques to a younger student on a snare drum and for parents who are looking for a more quiet alternative, we would recommend these first.
However, if they are of age, especially if they’re in school and their instrument that they want to pursue is the drum, by all means, let them do what they want to do and support them (Of course, at the right times. No one wants to hear a snare drum in the middle of the night!).
Player size isn’t as important as for other instrument groups, especially in percussion, because a lot of specialty mounting equipment for marching band and pep band is adjustable and fits most people. Whether you’re smaller or larger, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue learning to play the drums.
Different Types of Percussion Instruments
Now that we’ve gone through those variables, we’re going to show you different kinds of percussion instruments. While there are thousands of different percussion instruments, these ones are more common in orchestras and will probably be the first instruments you play.
When you envision the piercing bullet-like clack behind a marching band playing a Sousa march, that sound comes from the snare drum. As we’ve stated before, the snare drum will likely be your first drum, but this drum can do a lot more than just make one noise. The lever on the side of the drum allows for a change in pitch, and different techniques, like stick slaps and side reams can give the drum some personality. It is a versatile percussion instrument.
The cymbals are the clashes at the end of the national anthem, the “hurrah!” at the end of a piece; while these aren’t drums, these are a famously popular percussion instrument. Often you won’t play the cymbal alone; oftentimes, this will be a double part unless it is a strenuous part on a piece. When you do play the cymbal, make sure that your timing is on point. Nothing is more embarrassing than the glares from veterans at your performance of the national anthem when you miss your hit.
Here’s where your piano experience will become helpful. If you already know how to play the piano, the Glockenspiel or the xylophone, or for that matter, any other keyed percussion will be a breeze. Instead of using your fingers, you use mallets: some are hard, some are made with cloth or other materials. The point is these instruments are percussive and have a range of notes capable of being hit rather than just a drum with a couple of different noises.
The tambourine is used wisely and widely in a lot of pieces. You can drum on it, and while it makes a different noise than a snare drum, it also has tiny cymbals built into it. When you think of the tambourine think of the waddling of reindeer on Santa’s sleigh. I use this example because a lot of Christmas music uses a lot of tambourine and so that iconic sleighbell noise often comes from this instrument. Like the cymbals, the tambourine will probably not be a solo piece unless it is a strenuous piece or there are a lot of parts.
While this is a staple of percussion sections, with it often taking up a considerable amount of space, the gong is rarely used for band or orchestra. Often, the gong gets used in Asian literature, and when it does get used, it’s likely that you’ll be doubling up on a couple of instruments considering how rarely it does get used.
If you’re looking at learning a new instrument I would highly recommend picking one from the percussion family. The versatility between instruments is enormous and you’re sure to find an instrument that suits your playing style and desired sound. There are also a lot of options when wanting to double up on an instrument.
Percussion comes in all shapes and colors and sizes and there are thousands of examples of phenomenal drummers and musicians all across the world, especially on the internet. Doing a quick YouTube search will help you determine what kind of instrument you want to get and what sound you want to achieve.
Check out a rock concert or check out that Symphony Orchestra; I’ll bet you they both have a drummer.
No matter what you do, learning to play music can be very rewarding and has a vast selection of benefits and rewards that come from learning that can benefit your life. Whether you’re just beginning to look into playing an instrument and want some information about what instrument to choose or you have played for a while and want to learn a little more, I hope that we’ve been able to provide some good information for you.
Get out there and start drumming.