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Nic Nac Violin

The Percussion Section

Percussion instruments are made of naturally resonant materials like skin, wood or metal. Sound is produced when the instrument is struck. The role of this section is to provide rhythm and character to the orchestra. These instruments range from simple wooden blocks to tuned instruments.

Infront (left to right): marimba, timpani, crash cymbals, bass drum. Behind (left to right): snare drum, Jonathan Wade, tam-tam, Kenneth Simpson, suspended cymbal


  • A set of drums of different sizes, which play different notes, played by one performer
  • Each drum has a bowl of copper with plastic stretched over it
  • Pitches are changed by tightening or loosening the head with a pedal
  • Played with sticks covered with felt

Watch and listen to Ian Bernard, NAC Orchestra Principal Timpanist, demonstrate the timpani.

Watch and listen to Ian Bernard, NAC Orchestra Principal Timpanist, demonstrate the timpani.




  • Two rows of wooden bars that are struck with round-headed mallets
  • Top row is similar to the black keys on a piano
  • Bottom row is similar to the white keys on a piano
  • Origins in Africa and South America
  • Played with a variety of sticks or mallets, hard, medium and soft, rubber or cord



  • Large metal alloy gong of Chinese origin
  • Untuned percussion instrument
  • Comes in different sizes from very small to very large
  • Orchestral tam-tam is over 3-feet in diameter
  • The disk's outer rim is turned down to prevent the edge from vibrating, increasing the mysterious sound
  • Soft, repeated striking produces a powerful crescendo - the tam-tam's best sound
  • The best place to strike a tam-tam is just off-centre, but you can strike in the centre which almost produces a "pitch", or right on the edge which gives a very harsh sound


Snare Drum

  • Has two heads, either calf skin or more likely, plastic
  • The top, "batter head", is played
  • The bottom, "snare head", has gut or metal snares stretched across it
  • The snares vibrate when the drum is beaten giving a crisp rattle or buzz sound
  • Played with wooden sticks
  • Comes in different sizes that have their own characteristic pitch


Bass Drum

  • Largest and lowest of the drums, with a diameter of up to 3 feet
  • Not tuned to a specific pitch but the tone is very low and deep
  • Can sound thundering or quiet and almost inaudible
  • Played with very large felt or wood sticks








  • Round brass plates, slightly concave
  • Play by holding them in either hand and bringing them together in a swinging brushing motion
  • A single cymbal can be mounted on a stand and struck with various types of hard drumsticks, stroked with a wire brush or rolled with soft cord sticks
  • All cymbals come in a variety of sizes from 6 inches or smaller up to 24 inches or larger

Meet NAC Orchestra percussionists!

Check out the NAC Orchestra and Friends Percussion Interviews.