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  • Chris Anderson

A Brief History Of Percussion

The history of percussion instruments dates back to ancient times and spans cultures around the world. Percussion instruments have played various roles in different societies, from ceremonial and religious practices to entertainment and communication.


Prehistoric and Ancient Times

  • In prehistoric times, early humans likely used their bodies and natural objects like rocks, sticks, and bones to create rhythm and sound.

  • Hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and vocalisations were some of the earliest forms of percussion.

  • Percussion played a significant role in tribal ceremonies, rituals, and communal activities, often accompanying dance and chanting.

Ancient Civilizations

  • Ancient Egyptians used a variety of percussion instruments in religious ceremonies and festivities, including hand drums, frame drums, rattles, and clappers.

  • In Mesopotamia, drums were used in religious rituals and military contexts, and clay plaques depicting musicians playing drums and other instruments have been discovered.

Medieval and Renaissance Periods

  • The "tabor and pipe" ensemble, consisting of a small drum (tabor) and a pipe or other wind instrument, was popular in medieval Europe and was often used for outdoor performances.

  • Larger drums, such as timpani, gained prominence in orchestras during the Renaissance, adding depth and resonance to musical compositions.

Baroque Period

  • The use of timpani (kettle drums) became more standardised in European orchestras during the Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries).

  • Composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi incorporated percussion instruments in their compositions, often for dramatic effect.

19th Century

  • The 19th century saw the expansion of orchestras and the inclusion of more percussion instruments, including triangles, tambourines, and bass drums.

  • The rise of military bands and marching bands led to increased use of percussion instruments like snare drums, bass drums, cymbals, and even xylophones and glockenspiels.

20th Century and Beyond

  • Percussion instruments began to play a more prominent role in genres like jazz, where drum kits and various percussion instruments were used to create complex rhythms and textures.

  • The 20th century brought technological innovations, including electronic percussion instruments and synthesisers that expanded the possibilities of sound production.

  • Percussion ensembles gained popularity, highlighting the diverse timbres and rhythmic possibilities of percussion instruments.

World Percussion

  • Cultures around the world developed their own unique percussion instruments and styles. For example:

  • African drumming traditions incorporate djembes, talking drums, and other instruments with intricate rhythms.

  • Latin American music features congas, bongos, timbales, and other instruments that are central to salsa, samba, and other genres.

  • Asian percussion instruments like the tabla (India), taiko drums (Japan), and gamelan instruments (Indonesia) have distinct roles in their respective musical traditions.

Contemporary Trends

  • Modern percussionists often explore extended techniques, using unconventional objects to create unique sounds and textures.

  • Percussionists collaborate across genres, from classical to experimental, rock to electronic music, pushing the boundaries of what percussion instruments can achieve.

  • The Blue Man Group were/are an amazing percussion group.


Throughout history, percussion instruments have been a fundamental means of expression and communication, deeply intertwined with cultural practices, rituals, and artistic endeavours. From the primal rhythms of early humans to the sophisticated performances of today's percussionists, these instruments continue to captivate and inspire.

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