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What Are the Different Types of Percussion Groups?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are five basic types of percussion groups: cymbals, acoustic drums, electric drums, world percussion, and marching percussion. Major music retailers commonly categorize their percussion instruments into these five groups or a variation thereon. Accessories may be necessary as well for percussionists to get the sounds they want.

Cymbals are a common percussive instrument that give off higher pitches and resonant tones. They are almost always circular shaped and are used in genres from jazz to heavy metal to marching band music. A basic drum set traditionally incorporates a ride cymbal, a crash cymbal, and hi-hat cymbals. Cymbal stands, clamps, and add-ons fall under the category of accessories, separate from percussion groups themselves.

Acoustic drums mainly encompass the hardware of a drum set. An acoustic drum makes sound when hit and does not normally require amplification. The hardware of a basic drum set includes a snare drum, a floor tom, a rack tom, and a bass drum, which is also known as the kick drum. For live concerts in medium to large-sized clubs and concert halls, microphones may be put on these drums for added amplification. It is not necessary to mic the drums in small rooms.

Electric drums imitate acoustic drum sets. The skins are made of plastic, rubber, or mesh. When the musician hits the skin of the drum, it triggers a preprogrammed, prerecorded sound of the respective drum in use. For example, when the electric snare drum is triggered, a prerecorded hit from an acoustic snare will resonate.

There are multiple channels or settings for electric drums for the drummer to obtain various tones and drum set sounds. Electric drums are great for practice as the user has total control of the volume. An electric drum set can be plugged directly into an amplifier or PA system.

World percussion groups encompass bongos, congas, wood box Cajuns, and a number of other hand percussion instruments. World music is known for its percussion-driven sound. Shakers, tambourines, and other small, handheld percussive instruments could be classified under world percussion as well, though they are used across all genres of music.

Marching percussion groups include marching snare drums, marching tom sets, and marching bass drums in addition to modified cymbals and a variety of other accessories. The drums are customized with shoulder straps and harnesses to fit on the musicians’ shoulders or necks. Marching bands have multiple players of the same instrument to strengthen their sound. Sticks and mallets are necessary accessories for a concert percussion group.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jun 21, 2014

@umbra21 - I think drums are also a really good instrument for young people to pick up, because it's easy to understand and succeed at it right away, but it still has a lot of scope for learning.

Plus, the kids who learned the drums when I was at school were all considered to be quite cool. I always envied them.

By umbra21 — On Jun 20, 2014

@pastanaga - If modern kids are interested in percussion I just show them that clip from Pitch Perfect where the girl uses a cup as a percussion instrument to accompany her in a song.

I know when I was younger I thought it was all just about holding a beat in the background of the real music, but percussion can be very evocative on its own. A skilled drummer doesn't need any other instrument to make music.

By pastanaga — On Jun 19, 2014

If you want to see how awesome percussion can be, you might try looking around your city to see if there is a full moon drumming circle nearby.

It sounds kind of esoteric, and I know some people do see it that way, but I used to go to the one held in my city and it was basically a bunch of people with drums hanging out around a fire. It was held in a garden bar and sometimes fire dancers would come and perform in the background.

There's just something about percussion that really gets the blood pumping and makes you feel connected. I guess it goes back to the days when people were all tribal and the drum was used as a way of connecting us across distances.

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