Difference Between Pitched & Unpitched Percussion Instruments

By Eric Benac

The percussion section is one of the most important in the orchestra. It adds rhythm and color to any piece of music. There are many kinds of percussion instruments; understanding the difference between pitched and unpitched can help you better appreciate, or even write, music.

Unpitched Percussion

Unpitched percussion includes the bass drum, snare drum, all cymbals, tom toms, gongs and tam tams.

Unpitched Percussion Use

Unpitched percussion is used to keep rhythm without adding melodies to the music. These instruments are strictly used for rhythm.

Pitched Percussion

Pitched percussion includes marimbas, glockenspiels, celeste, steel drums, timpani, vibraphones and xylophones.

Pitched Percussion Use

Pitched percussion is used to add a rhythmic and melodic feel to the music. These instruments are often used to create counter melodies and harmonies.

Other Percussion

There are other percussion instruments used for special effect and not for rhythm or melody. These include police sirens, bird whistles, boat whistles, finger cymbals, slap sticks, rattles and triangles.

About the Author

Eric Benac began writing professionally in 2001. After working as an editor at Alpena Community College in Michigan and receiving his Associate of Journalism, he received a Bachelor of Science in English and a Master of Arts in writing from Northern Michigan University in Marquette.