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 today has become virtually unlimited.

I couldn’t predict that by exploring this vast family of instruments, I would go all the way back to the early mankind and the dawn of civilization. But above all, I realized that these are more than just “noisemakers”, carrying me to tackle the blurry and complicated lines between musical and nonmusical sound, and definite and indefinite pitch.

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.