Drums vs. Percussion – What’s the difference?

Drums vs. Percussion - What’s the difference
If you’re not sure what percussion is, you’re not alone. Most people don’t recognize the word when I say it to them, and they certainly don’t associate it with music. ‘Percussion’ is a category of instruments that are played by striking them with a hand, stick, mallet, or beater, or by shaking them. There are a lot of instruments included in this category, and a ‘percussionist’ is expected to play a large number of them. A ‘drummer’, on the other hand, may only play a few. If you’re looking for percussion or drum lessons in Denver, but you’re not sure which you’re looking for, read on!


The word ‘percussion’ includes a vast array of instruments from all over the world. Here’s a list of instruments off the top of my head that fall into that category: bass drum, xylophone, bongos, tambourine, cymbals, shakers, snare drum, steel pan, marimba, timpani, djembe, gongs, and yes: drumset! That list is by no means all-inclusive. Percussion instruments, next to the human voice, are the oldest instruments known t mankind. Each culture in the world has their own versions of drums and shaken instruments, so there are easily hundreds of different percussion instruments one could learn to play.
The drumset (also called drums, drumkit, set, or kit) is an American invention that was developed with the creation of blues and jazz music only in the last 100 years or so. It is made out of a collection of percussion instruments, and is therefore itself a percussion instrument. The drumsets you hear in popular music include a bass drum, snare drum, any number of toms (usually two or three, but rock musicians often use many more), and 3 or more different cymbals (hi-hats, crash cymbal, and ride cymbal). Drummers customize and tune their kits with great attention to detail, adding more cymbals, toms, and snares to achieve the perfect sound for each musical situation.

Which instruments are for you? 

There isn’t enough time to learn every percussion instrument on the planet (some instruments, like tabla or bata, demand a life-long commitment all on their own), so which one(s) should you learn to play? The best way to answer that question is to ask yourself which genres (styles) of music you are interested in playing. Depending on the genre(s) you choose, you will be expected to know how to play certain ones.
Want to play in an orchestra? You’ll need to master timpani, concert snare drum, crash cymbals, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, tambourine, triangle, concert toms, and at least a few other instruments. Nowadays, many orchestras expect their percussionists to have basic drumset skills for their pops concerts.
Want to be a percussionist in an R&B, funk, or pop band? You’ll need to know how to play hand drums (congas and bongos are most commonly used), tambourine, shaker, triangle, and as many other unique-sounding instruments as possible.
Want to perform with a latin dance band? Depending on the genre, you’ll need to know how to play maracas, guiro, congas, bongo, pandeiro, quica, timbales, and much more.
If you just want to play drumset and you don’t care to learn other percussion instruments, you’ll still be able to play jazz, rock, R&B, pop, funk, and every other genre of American popular music you can think of.

Selecting a drum teacher

Once you’ve decided what kinds of music you want to play, you’ll want to choose a teacher carefully. Even though drumset is a percussion instrument, not all drummers are percussionists, and not all percussionists are drumset players. Make sure you find a teacher that has experience playing and teaching the specific instruments you want to learn.
Lessons In Your Home has experienced drum teachers that are familiar with all of the percussion instruments listed in this article and many more. Our teachers come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. Our online music lessons are taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your family!

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