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Brief: Regarding the Indefinite-pitched Percussion

Having only played instruments that center around melody and its harmonies, you can imagine my initial surprise when I saw the title of the first part of the course – the indefinite-pitched percussion[1].

Traditionally, percussion instruments are defined to be those that produce a sound by being struck or shaken. Over time, more and more special sound effects have been added in, such as whistling or breaking glass, making it now difficult to give an exact definition. (Blatter, 1997:191)

Increased need for new sound effects has also brought about the increase of new instruments. As Adler (2002:431) points out, in order to satisfy composers’ wishes, the number of percussion instruments, especially the indefinite-pitched, has become virtually unlimited today.

Unlike the definite-pitched percussion instruments, the sense of pitch in the indefinite-pitched percussion is quite unclear and masked. However, as you will see, this topic is a lot more intricate than that. In fact, I couldn’t predict that by exploring this family of instruments, which many don’t realize are a lot more than just “noisemakers”, I would tackle the blurry and complicated lines of not only definite and indefinite pitch, but also  musical and nonmusical sound. In addition, these instruments also carried me all the way back to the early mankind and the dawn of civilization.

To learn more, take a look at the next few blog posts in this category. Also, I did a lot of research on the individual instruments. You can find these posts in the sections assigned for the specific examples/exercises for the course, depending on the instruments I used for them.

Adler, S. (2002) The Study of Orchestration. (3rd ed.) New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Blatter, A. (1997) Instrumentation and Orchestration. (2nd ed.) Belmont: Cengage Learning, Inc.
Solomon, S. Z. (2016) How to Write for Percussion: A Comprehensive Guide to Percussion Composition. (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

[1] I had to change the term untuned. It is not ideal and is being avoided in recent organology. Reason is, a drummer for example, can spend time “tuning” his instrument, not to a specific pitch, but rather to a specific quality of sound. Unpitched is also inappropriate, as woodblocks, cymbals and similar instruments are not without a pitch, but produce random pitches not prescribed by a composer. (Solomon, 2016:11) I will use the term indefinite-pitched percussion, for the reasons stated.

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