Indefinite Pitch Instruments

Bass Drum

IT: gran cassa – FR: grosse caisse – GER: grosse Trommel


This drum is two-headed and cylindrical, approximately 16 inches deep and 32 to 36 inches in diameter. Although it is usually played with a lamb’s wool beater, any kind of beater may be used. Response is slow, and simple rhythms with single strokes are recommended. A roll can create a thunderous effect. Avoid writing strong accents on regular beats unless the image of a parade is desired.

Crash Cymbals

IT: piatti, cinelli – FR: cymbales – GER: Becken


Usually 17 to 22 inches in diameter, crash cymbals are held in each hand by the strap attached to the center. They are brushed or clashed together when allowed to ring, and dampened against the body.

Suspended Cymbals

IT: piatto sospeso – FR: cymbale suspendue – GER: Hängendes Becken 


Suspended cymbals typically are found in three sizes: small (10-14 inches), medium (15-18 inches), and large (19-24 inches). They have a wide dynamic range and may be struck with any type mallet or stick. Struck at the edge, they produce a rich, bright sound; struck near the bell, they have a dull, gong-like sound. Rolls with soft mallets are effective, as are single strokes. Ordinary note heads and values are the preferred notation, rather than the "X" with a stem seen in some scores. Short notes are accomplished by choking the sound with the hand. The term "laissez vibrer" ( or l.v.) is used to indicate free vibration, and the term "sec" is used to indicate the choked effect.

Snare Drum

IT: tamburo militare – FR: tambour militaire – GER: Militärtrommel


Played with wooden sticks, this two-headed cylindrical drum with wire or gut snares stretched across the bottom rests horizontally on a stand. Dimensions are typically 5 to 8 inches in depth with a 14-inch diameter. The snares may be taut or loose; the drum resembles a tom-tom with the snares loosened. Unless the direction "snares off" is used, the normal manner of performance is with the snares on. This instrument was formerly referred to as a side drum.


Two of the most effective applications of the snare drum are to highlight rhythmic accents and to augment a crescendo with a roll. Head tension may be adjusted for crisp (taut) or muffled (loose) sounds. Wire brushes are used in some styles of playing. The rim shot is particularly effective.

Tenor Drum

IT: tamburo rullante – FR: caisse roulante – GER: Rührtrommel


This drum is larger than the snare, varying in diameter from 10 to 12 inches and in depth from 14 to 17 inches. It has no snares. It is usually played with hard felt mallets, but snare drum sticks may be used for a more incisive  sound.


IT: tamburo – FR: caisse sourde – GER: Jazzpauke


These drums may have one or two heads and are cylindrical, much like tenor drums. Various sizes are often combined. Dimensions are typically 12 to 18 inches in diameter and 8 to 20 inches in depth. Tom-toms have no snares and are played with either sticks or mallets. A trap set includes a floor tom.


IT: tamburino – FR: tambour de Basque – GER: Schellentrommel


The tambourine is a small wooden hoop about 10 inches in diameter with a calfskin head and jingles on the sides. It is commonly struck with the fist, palm, or sticks; it may also be shaken. Thumb rolls, produced by rubbing the thumb around the head near the rim, are advisable for low dynamic levels only. A shake roll is better for longer durations and wider dynamic variation.


IT: triangolo – FR: triangle – GER: Triangel


The triangle is a metal bar bent into a triangular shape, usually from 6 to 10 inches on a side. It is typically held by a cord suspended from the hand used to dampen it. Struck with a metal triangle beater, it has a wide dynamic range and a complex overtone structure.


Spelled the same in all languages, the tam-tam is a large circular piece of metal suspended from a frame, something like a flattened bell. A similar instrument of fixed pitch is called a gong, although the gong has a dome or cupola in the center and may have curled edges.

Other Percussion of Indefinite Pitch

This category also includes wood block, Chinese temple blocks, claves, timbales, hi-hat cymbals, finger cymbals, drums, sleigh bells, guiro, maracas, conga, anvil, jaw bone, brake drums and the bull roar. 

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