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First Time Percussion Players
By Alex Beamer
8/3/2017 1:01:00 PM

First Time Percussion Players

Congratulations on choosing to play percussion! Percussionists play some of the most dynamic and exciting pieces of a musical performance. Percussion instruments range from enormous bass drums to tiny finger cymbals, but the three most common percussion instruments in beginning school bands and orchestras are the snare drum, bells, and xylophone.

As a music student, or a parent of a music student, you will want to know some basics about your percussion instrument as soon as you start playing.

Snare Drum

Parts of the Snare Drum, Stand, and Drumsticks

Below is a diagram of the snare drum, stand, and drumsticks. Click on the image to enlarge it.

snare drum diagram

Setting Up the Snare Drum

1. Use the base screw (or wingnut) to loosen and tighten the legs on the stand. Open the stand wide enough to create a stable base for the instrument.
2. Carefully place the drum on top of the stand, referred to as the “cradle.”
3. Once securely in the cradle, tighten the wingnut at the bottom of the cradle until the stand has been tightened around the drum.
4. Adjust the height of the stand to waist-high. 
5. Hold the drum as you adjust the angle of the stand. The drum should be parallel to the floor.

Keyboard (Mallet) Percussion

The keyboard percussion family (also called the mallet percussion family) includes orchestral bells, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and chimes. Each instrument is arranged chromatically in two rows similar to a piano keyboard. Because of the different materials used, each of these five instrument has its own unique sound. The two most common keyboard percussion instruments are the bells and xylophone.


Also called the Glockenspiel, orchestral bells are made from metal and produce a bright, charming sound. The instrument is played with hard-rubber mallets, or sometimes brass or plastic mallets.

bell kit

The xylophone is a percussion instrument with wooden bars. Each bar is a different length, so they play different notes when struck. A full-sized xylophone will have resonators to help make each note last longer. However, most students use a desktop xylophone which are smaller and more portable, and therefore much more convenient.  

 desktop xylophone

Related Articles

Have questions? Need advice? West Music is here for you! Give our school orchestra experts a call at 800-373-2000. 

Adapted with permission from Alfred Music's Sound Innovations for Concert Band 1: Percussion

Tags: band, beginner, snare drum, drums, percussion, xylophone, bells, alex beamer
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Drums & Percussion
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