The Percussion Ensemble A Versatile Section Historical Uses Percussion instruments have been around as long as humanity. The section was not extensively explored in Western Art Music until the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th Century. The modern percussion section now includes too many instruments to list. Historical Uses Turkish military instruments were used extensively in 17th and 18th century opera. These instruments include snare drums, triangles, cymbals, and small gongs; castanets and tambourines from the Mediterranean were also added. Timpani became fashionable in King Henry VIII’s time. Historical Uses The military instruments slowly found their way into the concert hall when the composer was trying to evoke an effect. By the mid- to late 19th century, the triangle, snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals became standard instruments in the orchestra. Nationalistic composers and composers interested in the music of cultures other than their own introduced many new instruments into the section. Historical Uses The glockenspiel and xylophone became integrated into the larger symphony of the late 19th century. The percussion ensemble became a common medium in the 1920’s. Number and Distribution Unlike the other percussion parts, the timpanist is considered a separate member of the ensemble and usually only plays timpani. The other parts are assigned to the players by the section leader -- mallets, drums, cymbals, and special effects. Number and Distribution Two important issues to consider when scoring for percussion: Is there sufficient time for the player to switch instruments? Can one player play more than one instrument simultaneously? As always, it is best to consult a player to make sure parts are possible. Notation There is no standardized notation for the percussion instruments. Keyboards use the grand staff, or treble or bass clef depending on where the pitches lie. Be consistent with the other instruments -- use the same line or space throughout the composition. The designation l.v. means let vibrate. Notation Some scores use symbols to indicate which mallets, sticks or beaters to use, and some scores write out or use abbreviations to indicate the choice. If a part has several instruments on it, provide a legend at the beginning of the part and be consistent. Classification of Percussion The two main categories of instruments are those of definite pitch and those of indefinite pitch. Each of the two main categories is divided into one of four subgroups: Idiophones; Membranophones; Chordophones; Aerophones. Idiophones These instruments produce their sound by the vibration of the entire instrument -- triangles, cymbals, wood blocks, etc. Marimbas and vibraphones have many vibrating bodies combined into one instrument. These instruments can be scraped, struck, shaken, or stroked. Idiophones -- Definite Pitch The xylophone has a dry, hard, brittle sound. This instrument has very little sustain. If a long sustained pitch is needed, it must be rolled. The most commonly used instrument has a written range of C4 to C7 and sounds an octave higher than notated. The player usually uses only two mallets. Idiophones -- Definite Pitch Marimba keys are longer, wider, and thinner than the xylophone’s which gives the instrument a mellow and longer sustaining sound. The commonly used range is A2 to C7 and sounds as written. Soloists commonly use an instrument that has pitches down to C2. It is not uncommon for a marimbist to use four mallets. Idiophones -- Definite Pitch The vibraphone has bars made of metal and has a sound similar to tuning forks. There are fans inside the resonator tubes which are driven by a variable speed motor. Because of the sustain there is a damper pedal. The most commonly used instrument has a range of F3 to F6 and sounds as written. Idiophones -- Definite Pitch The glockenspiel, also know as orchestra bells, has bars made of highly tempered steel. Brass mallets produce the characteristic sound, though other mallets are often used. This instrument also has a long sustain. The written range is G3 to C5, but the instrument sounds two octaves higher than written pitch. Idiophones -- Definite Pitch The chimes (tubular bells) consist of long brass tubes which have a long sustain with a detuned sound like church bells. The commonly used range is C4 to F5 and the instrument sounds as written. This instrument also has a pedal to control the sustain. A rawhide mallet is the most common but other mallets are used as well. Membranophones These instruments produce their sound by the vibration of a skin or membrane stretched and fastened over a resonating shell or tube. Because of durability, ease of use, and especially cost, plastic has been replacing natural skin in many applications. Membranophones are usually struck with a beater or the hand. Membranophones -- Definite Pitch The timpani heads are commonly made of plastic, however professional orchestral timpanists often use heads made of calfskin. Usually four drums of interlocking ranges are used: 32” -- D2 to A2; 28” -- F2 to C3; 25” -- B-flat2 to F3 23” -- D3 to A3. The drums have a pedal which tightens and loosens the head. Chordophones All chordophones are definite pitched instruments. The sound is produced by the vibration of a string which is amplified by a resonator -- a box, case, board, or a combination of the three. The strings are struck with a mallet or activated by a mechanism. Chordophones The cimbalom is trapezoid shaped and laid flat to be struck on the strings with a leather or wooden mallet. Like the piano it has multiple strings for each pitch. It often has a damper pedal. The range is from E2 to E6. Aerophones Aerophones produce their sound by a column of vibrating air -- brass and woodwind instruments are aerophones. In the percussion section this category includes whistles, sirens, and machines. Though most produce a definite pitch, it is not always notated.