Percussion instruments play not only rhythm, but also melody and harmony.
Music for pitched percussion instruments can be notated on a staff with the same treble and bass clefs used by many non-percussive instruments. Music for percussive instruments without a definite pitch can be notated with a specialist rhythm or percussion-clef; More often a treble clef (or sometimes a bass clef) is substituted for rhythm clef.
Percussion is commonly referred to as "the backbone" or "the heartbeat" of a musical ensemble, often working in close collaboration with bass instruments, when present. In jazz and other popular music ensembles, the bassist and the drummer are often referred to as the rhythm section. Most classical pieces written for full orchestra since the time of Haydn and Mozart are orchestrated to place emphasis on the strings, woodwinds, and brass. However, often at least one pair of timpani is included, though they rarely play continuously. Rather, they serve to provide additional accents when needed. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, other percussion instruments (like the triangle or cymbals) have been used, again relatively sparingly in general. The use of percussion instruments became more frequent in the twentieth century classical music.
In almost every style of music, percussion plays a pivotal role. In military marching bands and pipes and drums, it is the beat of the bass drum that keeps the soldiers in step and at a regular speed, and it is the snare that provides that crisp, decisive air to the tune of a regiment. In classic jazz, one almost immediately thinks of the distinctive rhythm of the hi-hats or the ride cymbal when the word "swing" is spoken. In more recent popular music culture, it is almost impossible to name three or four rock, hip-hop, rap, funk or even soul charts or songs that do not have some sort of percussive beat keeping the tune in time.
Because of the diversity of percussive instruments, it is not uncommon to find large musical ensembles composed entirely of percussion. Rhythm, melody and harmony are all apparent and alive in these musical groups, and in live performance they are quite a sight to see.
Anthropologists and historians often speculate that percussion instruments were the first musical devices ever created. The human voice was probably the first musical instrument, but percussion instruments such as hands and feet, then sticks, rocks, and logs were almost certainly the next steps in the evolution of music.
The word 'percussion' has evolved from Latin terms: "percussio" (which translates as "to beat, strike" in the musical sense, rather than the violent action), and "percussus" (which is a noun meaning "a beating"). As a noun in contemporary English it is described at Wiktionary as "the collision of two bodies to produce a sound.'' The usage of the term is not unique to music but has application in medicine and weaponry, as in percussion cap, but all known and common uses of the word, "percussion,'' appear to share a similar lineage beginning with the original Latin: "percussus." In a musical context then, the term "percussion instruments" may have been coined originally to describe a family of instruments including drums, rattles, metal plates, or wooden blocks which musicians would beat or strike (as in a collision) to produce sound.
The earliest percussion instruments were our hands and feet, then "found" objects such as sticks, logs, and rocks. As human communities developed tools for hunting and eventually agriculture, their skill and technology enabled them to craft more complex instruments. For example, a simple log may have been carved to produce louder tones (a log drum) and instruments may have been combined to produce multiple tones (as in a 'set' of log drums).
It is not uncommon to discuss percussion instruments in relation to their cultural origin. This has led to a division between instruments which are considered "common" or "modern," and folk instruments which have a significant history or purpose within a geographic region or cultural group."Percussion instrument." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Apr 2008, 02:31 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Apr 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Percussion_instrument&oldid= 208246943>.
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