Percussion Experiments for Kids

Students should experiment with different types of instruments.

Percussion instruments produce pitch through force by striking, hitting or shaking. Two types of percussion instruments exist and can be defined as those that create specific pitch and those that create an indefinite pitch. Household objects provide wonderful opportunities to experiment with percussion instruments. Children should be encouraged to experiment with sound by evaluating four characteristics of musical sound: pitch, timbre or tone quality, decay and volume. Experiments with percussion instruments should focus on identifying these four elements of sound.


Provide students with a percussion instrument and ask them to evaluate the type of pitch it produces, the relative highness or lowness and range of the instrument. Allow the students to compare the pitch of one instrument with the pitch of another instrument. Students should answer whether the instrument can play several pitches or just one pitch. Students should also determine if striking the instrument in different places will change the general or specific pitch of the instrument. Finally, students should ascertain whether the instrument produces specific or indefinite pitch.


Timbre refers to the quality of the pitch. Clarinets create a different timbre than a trumpet. Students can use analytical abilities and adjectives to describe instruments. Some percussion instruments will sound hard and flat while others will sound sharp and metallic. Students should use the best adjective they can think of to describe different percussion instruments. Students should also attempt to strike the instrument in different ways and with varying mallets to see how the texture of the percussion instrument changes.


Unlike melodic instruments such as woodwinds, brass, and strings, percussion instruments do not generally sustain pitch very well. The initial sound will decay at a rate that depends on the material used and the method of striking. The only way to prolong the sound of a percussion instrument is through repeated striking or rolling of a mallet. Students can time the length of time it takes for different instruments to decay completely. Using a stopwatch, students will learn about the materials that have the slowest and fastest decays.


Percussion instruments produce varying levels of sound. Some will be louder than others, even if the same force is applied. Determining the loudness of an instrument may be accomplished by carefully listening to the sound produced. Provide students with a sound level meter to allow them to determine the specific decibel level of differing instruments. Students should also experiment with different methods of producing volume, such as shaking, striking and using various types of mallets.


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