Percussion Instruments

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11468

Drumsticks, hammers, mallets - they don't sound very musical! But they are used to create musical sounds on percussion instruments! Learn how instruments make distinctive sounds, and make a slideshow!


Physical Science

learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


There are more 1,000 different types of instruments throughout the world! All of these instruments are categorized into one of four families. What are some different ways you could categorize the following instruments?

What are some ways you said you could categorize the instruments?

Maybe you said you could categorize them based on appearance or how they are played. In music, instruments are categorized based on the type of sound they produce, and how that sound is produced within the instrument.

As with anything that makes a sound, instruments create vibrations. The type of vibration the instrument creates determines what type of sound it makes. Instruments are categorized into four groups: percussion instruments, string instruments, wind instruments, and electronic instruments.

Before continuing any farther with this lesson, take a minute to assess what you already know about sound. Discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • What is sound?
  • How does sound travel?
  • What type of wave is a sound wave?
  • What is frequency? How is frequency related to sound?

If you are uncertain about the answer to any of these questions, complete our All About Sound series, found in Additional Resoruces in the right-hand sidebar, before proceeding any farther. Since instruments are classified by the sounds they produce, an understanding of sound is necessary for completing these lessons.

The first category of instruments you will study is percussion instruments. Play the following Eastman Percussion Ensemble: Fandango 13 (University of Rochester) video two times. The first time, only listen to the music. Do not watch the video while you listen. As you listen, write down what you hear. Be sure to include the following observations:

  • Describe the sounds being produced.
  • What do you think the soundwaves for each instrument look like?
  • Do the instruments have a high or low frequency?
  • What instruments do you think you are hearing?
  • What do the sounds have in common?

The second time you play the video, watch the musicians as they play. Were your predictions about the types of instruments correct? Make connections between the instruments you see and the sounds you hear. Discuss your observations with a teacher or parent:


Percussion instruments are instruments that produce a sound when they are struck, shaken, or scraped. This includes instruments such as xylophones, drums, tambourines, cymbals, and maracas. Can you think of any other percussion instruments? Share any that come to mind with your teacher or parent.

There is a wide variety of percussion instruments. Drums are very different from a triangle or a xylophone. Therefore, the pitch and amplitude produced by a percussion instrument can vary depending on the type of percussion instrument being played.

Pitch is the frequency of the vibrating object. The faster an object vibrates, the higher the pitch.

Amplitude is the amount of energy in a sound wave. The louder the sound, the higher the amplitude.

Based on this information, what do you think a sound wave for a drum looks like? What about a triangle? Draw an example and show it to your parent or teacher.

There are many different types of drums. The sound wave for a bass drum is pictured below:

Watch the Drum Sound Waves Prezi by Matthew Smith to learn more about how drums produce sound, and see more examples of sound waves produced by percussion instruments. Why did some of the sound waves look different? Share your ideas with a teacher or parent.

After you have watched the Prezi and discussed your observations, move on to the Got It? section to review what you have learned.

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