Percussion Glossary


Agogo – An agogo is a single or multiple bell with its origins inWest Africa. Traditionally made of wrought iron, agogos are now manufactured in a variety of metals and sizes for different sound qualities. The most common arrangement is two bells of differing sizes attached by a U shaped piece of metal with the smaller bell in the uppermost position. The agogo is typically played by striking it with a wooden stick.


Bell – a bell is a percussion instrument whose usual form is a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck. The striking implement can be a tongue suspended within the bell, known as a clapper; a small, free sphere enclosed within the body of the bell; or a separate mallet or hammer. Bells can be of all sizes and are usually made of cast metal; however small bells can also be made from ceramic or glass.

Berimbau– the berimbau is a single-string, bow-shaped percussion instrument fromBrazil. The berimbau consists of a wooden bow about 4 to 5 feet long with a steel string tightly strung and secured from one end to the other. A gourd that has been dried, opened and hollowed-out is attached to the lower portion of the bow and acts as a resonator. The berimbau is used in musical performances and in the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira, where it commands how the capoeiristas move in the roda. It is also used in a group rhythmic process called TaKeTiNa.


Caxixi – a caxixi is a percussion instrument. It consists of a closed basket with a flat-bottom filled with seeds or other small particles. It is sounded by shaking. The caxixi is played along with the berimbau in Brazilian Capoeira music, and inWest Africa it is used singers, often alongside drummers.

Click Sticks – a traditional Australian instrument consisting of two wooden sticks, which are either clicked together or against the side of the Didgeridoo.

Conch Shells – a conch is a musical instrument that is made from the shell of one of several different kinds of large sea snails, including the Queen Conch. It is sometimes referred to as a shell trumpet.


Didgeridoo – the didgeridoo, also known as a didjeridu, didge, and yidaki is a wind instrument. The oldest records of Australian Aborigines playing the didgeridoo date back 2,000 years in the form of old Northern Territory cave and rock paintings; however, some believe the Aborigines have been using the didgeridoo for over 40,000 years. It is still in widespread usage today both inAustralia and around the world. The didgeridoo is sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or drone pipe because of the droning sound it makes.

Djembe – the djembe is a goblet-shaped, skin-covered drum originating inAfrica that is meant to be played with the bare hands. In the Bambara language, djé is the verb for gather and bé translates as peace. The primary notes are generally referred to as bass, tone, and slap, though a variety of other tones can also be produced by advanced players. The slap has a high and sharp sound, the tone is more round and full, and the bass is low and deep.

Dundun – the dundun, also known as dundun, doundoun, or djun-djun, is the generic name for a family of West African bass drums. There different names for dunduns, depending on the size, construction technique and tuning. Some of the most often used names are konkoni, kenkeni, sangban, dununba, and djeli-dun.


Frog Rasp – a frog rasp is wooden percussion instrument carved in the shape of a frog. An authentic ribbit sound is created by stroking the accompanied playing sticks thick side over the ridges, or it can be played like a woodblock by tapping on the nose.


Gong – a gong is an Asian musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat metal disc, which is hit with a mallet. There are three basic types of gongs: Suspended – which are more or less flat, circular discs of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through holes near to the top rim, Bossed or Nipple – which have a raised center boss and are often suspended and played horizontally, and Bowl – which are bowl-shaped and rest on cushions. Gongs produce two distinct types of sound, tuned note and a crash sound.


Rain Stick – a rain stick is a percussion instrument made from a dried cactus branch that has been hollowed out and filled with small pebbles. It is capped at both ends and makes a sound like falling rain when tilted.


Shekere – the shekere is an instrument fromWest Africa made from vine gourds. The shape of the gourd determines its sound. The instrument itself consists of a dried gourd with beads woven into a net covering the gourd. Throughout the African continent there are similar gourd/bead or gourd/seed percussion instruments with names such as lilolo, axatse, and chequere. In performance it is shaken and/or hit against the hands or even the body.

Spring or Thunder Drum – a simple tube-shaped instrument that is angled at one end with a wire spring dangling from the head. Spring drums are played by shaking the long thin spring on this instrument to create a thunder like noise. The sound can vary from a distant rumble to a thundering crescendo depending on how hard you shake it.

Surdo – a surdo is a large bass drum used in many kinds of Brazilian music where it plays the lower parts from a percussion section. Surdos may have shells of wood, galvanized steel, or aluminum, and the heads may be animal skin or plastic. They are worn from a waist belt or shoulder strap, oriented with the heads roughly horizontal. The surdo is also used in a group rhythmic process called TaKeTiNa.


Talking Drum – talking drum is term for a West African hourglass drum beaten so as to imitate the tone and prosody of human speech. Talking drums were traditionally used for long-distance communication between villages, however nowadays they are mostly used for musical performances.