percussion ensemble

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					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

   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
       Can one player play more than one instrument

   As always, it is best to consult a player to
    make sure parts are possible.
   There is no standardized notation for the percussion

   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.
   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
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.
   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

   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

   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.
   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
   All chordophones are definite pitched

   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.
   The cimbalom is trapezoid shaped and laid flat to
    be struck on the strings with a leather or wooden

   Like the piano it has multiple strings for each pitch.

   It often has a damper pedal.

   The range is from E2 to E6.
   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.