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Hand Percussion Instruments

Hand percussion instruments have been used throughout human history and are some of the earliest instruments known to man. Percussion instruments and drums come in two main types: tuned, such as xylophones, that have definite tonal ranges, and untuned instruments like drums that don’t rely on a defined pitch. Some instruments like tambourines have a pitch but are not tuned, so fall into the untuned category.

Tuned Percussion Instruments

Tuned percussion instruments give melody and variety to the music. Xylophones are a popular example, especially for children or beginning percussionists. Xylophones produce a range of notes, and professional varieties are often made from hardwood. Metallophones are a similar option but struck with a metal mallet which gives them a different sound. Glockenspiels are another common tuned instrument, made from tuned steel bars or tubes that produce notes when struck by a wooden, metal or rubber beater.

Untuned Percussion Instruments

Percussion shakers and blocks are great untuned instruments to add depth and rythm to music. Egg shakers have a delicate sound and are easy to play, whether the music is live or recorded. Wood blocks are usually played with a beater and come in a range of sizes and pitches. These sounds are often paired with a cowbell as well as a range of other drums or hand percussion instruments.


Some drums, such as the timpani, fall into the tuned category because it is possible to produce a range of notes. Drums can be played with the hand or with a stick, depending on the type. Some drums, such as the frame drum, also come with jingles to add another dimension to the instrument. The type of music played will normally lend itself to a specific drum, so look for clues in the heritage of the music before deciding which instrument to play.

Percussion instruments for Children

When choosing hand percussion instruments and drums for a classroom, don’t forget that you will have a large number of unskilled players all using their instruments at the same time. Many musical manufacturers try to sell large numbers of similar instruments, such as the same type of drum. However, consider varying the instruments as much as possible to create a range of sounds and tones.

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