Percussion instruments are those that can be played by striking, shaking, rubbing or shaking them. This family of instruments provides various rhythms, accents and sound effects in pieces of music. Some percussion instruments merely provide a nontuned sound that serves as a rhythmic background, whereas others are tuned to specific pitches. Membraphones are percussion instruments that have a vibrating membrane whose tension usually can be adjusted, such as a drum head. Ideophones are percussion instruments that produce sound through the vibration of solid material, which may or may not be tuned.
Melodic percussion instruments usually fall into the ideophone category, with the exception of the kettledrum, or "timpani." Musicians can change the pitch of a kettledrum as they play through the use of a foot pedal. Therefore, timpani drums can be somewhat melodic. Ideophonic percussion instruments that are melodic include the xylophone, hand bells, marimba, glockenspiel, chimes and vibraphone. The xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel and vibraphone instruments are similar in that you use a mallet or multiple mallets to play a range of bars. The differences among these four instruments are there sizes and the materials used to make the bars, which accounts for differing sounds. Another special type of melodic ideophonic percussion instrument is the piano. The piano belongs to both the percussion and string families of instruments.
Other ideophones may possess pitch, but it is indefinite rather than melodic. These instruments include maracas, wood blocks, spoons, triangles, cymbals, rattles, gongs and rhythm sticks. You play maracas, rattles and other similar instruments (such as rain sticks) by shaking them. You play woodblocks, spoons, triangles, cymbals, gongs and rhythm sticks using striking motions, either by striking them with a mallet or stick or by striking them against themselves (as in the case of spoons or rhythm sticks).
Nonmelodic membraphones include some tambourines and all types of drums, with the exception of kettledrums. Commonly used drums include the bass, snare, tom-tom, congas and bongo. These instruments usually have a pitch, as determined by the tension on the head of the drum and the manner in which the musician strikes the instrument. Drums and tambourines are not melodic, however, because their pitches are limited.
Charlotte Johnson is a musician, teacher and writer with a master's degree in education. She has contributed to a variety of websites, specializing in health, education, the arts, home and garden, animals and parenting.