History & Facts About Percussion Instruments

By Brian Hudson

Percussion instruments are some of the oldest music-makers in the world, perhaps only second to the human voice itself. This diverse family of instruments is integral to music in every known culture, and includes a vast array of musical sounds.

Function

A "percussion instrument" is any instrument whose sound is generated via striking, rubbing, shaking or otherwise impacting a surface to create audible vibrations.

History

The first percussion instruments were likely human hands and feet used to clap or stomp a rhythm. Eventually, cultures discovered that they could create louder, more varied sounds with crafted surfaces and implements.

Features

All percussion instruments must have a vibrating body or surface. There must also be an impacting tool or striking surface.

Types

The two main types of percussion instruments are idiophones, or "body vibrators," such as cymbals, bells and xylophones; and membraphones, commonly called "drums," which create sound via a single stretched surface.

Fun Fact

Because a piano creates music by striking a taut chord with a hammer, it is technically a percussion instrument called a chordophone.

Geography

It is impossible to say where the first percussion instruments were made, though it is likely that the earliest cultures in Africa and Asia had them. Today, percussion instruments are found in every culture around the globe.

About the Author

Brian Hudson is an educator and freelance writer living in Dearborn, Mich. He has been freelancing since 1998, and in that time he has written for "DRAGON Magazine," the Role-Playing Game Association, MacFarland Publishing, and Blue Bike Books. He holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from Central Michigan University.