At Jane Glover, we love to dig deep into musical instruments and how they are able to generate such delightful sounds. One of the amazing categories of instruments is the percussion. It is the largest family in the orchestra and yet not valued as much as Strings or Brass. We discuss here the instrument family, its scientific working principle and the complexities involved.
The snare drum and bass drum are the most well-known percussion instruments in the family, and yet they are only two of more than a dozen types of instruments. The others include the triangle, chimes, cymbals, timpani, xylophone etc. Some even consider the piano as a percussion instrument, as it does fulfil the criteria of such an instrument, which is that it produces a sound when hit.
The obvious following question is, why does it produce a sound when hit? The reason can be explained with basic physics. As well all know, sound is a wave that travels through different mediums. When you hit a percussion instrument, say drums, the force you impart on the drumsticks is transferred to the plastic outer skin of the drums. This causes the skin to vibrate, which in turn causes a compression and expansion of air molecules in the vicinity and subsequently a difference in air pressure. That creates a sound wave.
Once we know this, we can deduct that we can control the frequency of the sound wave produced by controlling the force that we impart to the sticks. It does mean that we need to estimate and exert the force needed to produce a desired sound wave. Figuring this out and mastering the movement of our hands takes strength, stamina and years of practice, which is why the job of a percussionist is the most physically taxing.
Once you have mastered it, however, you will notice that the ability to create those sound waves gives you sheer joy at what you have achieved. You also increase your body strength and stamina. Perhaps this is why musicians all over the world flock to percussions despite the inherent complexities.