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Classification of percussion instruments – a personal choice

“The DEFINITIVE classification of percussion instruments!”. Anyone who would ever join a similar (and useless) accomplishment should know that the possible parameters would really be too many. So in this post I’ll help you to understand (in a general way) which instruments are included in the huge family of the tools that I play. Remember one world: variety.


This is an important concept you have to understand if you want to start the study of percussionS. Otherwise study the violin, the guitar, the piano, the flute…. and all the other musical instruments composed by only one “piece”.


But why do percussionists have to study all the different types of percussion instruments? This is a good question and the answer isn’t simple at all. We will talk about this dilemma (not solved yet for me) in another moment. If you would like to know my viewpoint on this matter, read the tip nr. 1 of my “9 Essential Tips for Percussionists” where I talk about this.



The following classification is completely personal. It’s the one that I use with my students and it has nothing to do with other classifications I’ll introduce later which result more scientific and methodological.

Classification of percussion instruments

An old photo I took at the Percussion Department in the Copenaghen Conservatory


So, I’m glad to introduce you my everyday world:


    • Snare drum: the King of all percussions. If you aim to start playing these instruments (or at least if you aim to start studying with me) start with the snare drum. A very big part of the other percussion tecniques comes from this cylindrical box.
    • Drum set: the history and the approach of this instrument developed on a different and partially indipendent way compared with the other percussions. A lot of percussionists start with the study of the drum set. And there they stop, but for me this has never been enough.
    • Orchestral percussions: bass drum, orchestral cymbals, tambourine, triangle (and yes, the triangle too has a specific tecnique!) and different accessories. All the instruments mostly used in the orchestra.
    • Timpani: they belong to the previous category too but their tecnique and their specific repertory give to these armonic pots an honour position. And yes, they are among my favourite instruments.
    • Keyboard percussions: marimba, vibraphone, xylophone and glockenspiel. Don’t you know the difference? Don’t worry about that, a lot of professional musicians and music teachers don’t know it. Read the post about the different keyboard percussions and everything will be clearer.
    • Ethnic percussions: a different world – different worlds. Cuba, Brazil, Africa, India, Middle East, etc. Every population has developed its own percussion instruments and their relative tecniques. Study all of them? Simply impossible. The best thing should be learn the main practice and the different executive styles at least.
    • Electronic percussions: every acoustic percussion has its electronic brother. But we’re also talking about softwares and other funny tools.
    • Other: do you think that rusty sinks, horseshoes, truck springs, the body itself, every single noise in the world…. don’t belong to the everyday work of a percussionist? You’re wrong. Everything that can be hit, stroked, wracked in any way is a percussion and as such it must be played by a professional. Now you understand the reason why we are always mocked by all others musicians. For example, have you ever seen a violinist hitting a metal sheet immersed in a water basin? I’ve done it and they even payed me for that.



There would be infinite possibilities of classification of percussion instruments as infinite are the timbre resources of these instruments. If you have different ideas about how to classify them or you think I missed something let me know it with a comment.

For reifined and openminded people I suggest to read Sachs’ work “The History of musical instruments”. The italian bible about percussions is a book by Guido Facchin called with a cryptic name: “Le percussioni”. Really suggested. And finally the most read book by all the percussionists in the world is “Percussion Instruments and their History” by James Blades.

In my next posts I’ll try to spend a few words for every single group of instrument while if you want to see these instruments played by a flesh-and-blood percussionist -me! – subscribe my youtube channel or stand up from that chair and partecipate at some concerts. And if you want to take some lessons look for a percussion teacher in your area.

And don’t forget to subscribe my newsletter because as soon as you do that I’ll send you a great FREE pdf report called “9 Essential Tips for Percussionists“, a short colletion of advices for your career as professional percussionist. Bye!

Question: what do you think about my classification? How do you classify percussion instruments? Write a comment!

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