The triangle is a small, yet significant member of the percussion family. In a symphony orchestra, it can be used sparingly or quite prevalently throughout a piece of music. The triangle was first used simply for coloring certain musical passages, although some composers have elevated the instrument's stature to solo status. It has also transcended the symphony to become an important part of jazz and pop music.
While the inventor of the triangle is unknown, the instrument became the first all-metal percussion device used in a modern orchestra in 1710. The triangle was originally viewed as nothing more than a support instrument, used only for color. In the early 1800s, however, it became a regular component of the symphony orchestra. In 1853, Liszt promoted the triangle to the role of solo instrument for his "Piano Concerto in E flat."
A standard concert triangle is constructed from steel bar bent into the shape of an equilateral triangle. A small opening appears on one corner of the instrument. A steel beater is used to strike the triangle.
A triangle is suspended by a string, usually held by the performer's hand or from a support. When struck by a beater, it produces a high, indescribable pitch due to dissonance that obscures the actual note.
Triangles come in a variety of sizes. The average concert version measures up to 7 inches on each side. The largest known triangle, however, measures 2 feet, 3 inches on each side. Oversized triangles are still used today on farms and ranches to signal meal times.
Despite its limited tone potential, the triangle is a versatile instrument. Striking different parts of the triangle produces different tones. Typically, the outer sides are struck to produce louder tones, while the lower end of the closed side is struck to produce softer tones. Different-sized strikers also produce varying tones.
The performer's free hand is used to grasp the triangle at specific moments to signify note values. A tremolo pattern is accomplished by holding the beater near a closed corner of the triangle and striking both sides rapidly. Louder volume is achieved when the beater strikes the triangle further away from the closed corner.
Lee Simmons has 10 years of reporting experience covering a variety of issues for publications in South Carolina, California, and Texas. He also covered music industry issues for Soundcheck magazine and Bizmology.com, among others. Simmons earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. He lives in Austin.