Percussion instruments are the second oldest instrument in the world after the voice. They make up the largest and constantly growing family of instruments. Anything you can hit something to cause an audible sound is a percussion instrument. They also make up the instruments used in the oldest form of orchestra, the Gamelan, from China; which consists primarily of gongs, bells, and drums.


Singing Bowl - Surviving examples of this Tibetan instrument have been dated back to the 10th century but oral tradition places them at 560 B.C. They are commonly found in temples, monasteries, and meditation halls. They are played in one of two ways - either by striking the bowl to produce a bell like sound or running the striker along the edge of the bowl to produce a harmonic, much like the way you would play a wine glass.

Singing bowls

Singing bowl strikers


Castanets - Most commonly identified with Spanish music, castanets have been used by dancers since the days of ancient Rome or Phoenicians who settled in Spain in the 11th century B.C. Spanish dancers were judged by their playing of the castanets as well as their dancing. Usually, a set on each hand is used - the left hand playing the simple beats and the right playing complex dance rhythms.

Iberian crusmata (castanets)


Rattle - An instrument that reaches back to the times of primitive man, and made from anything that can be shaken to make a sound. Bunches of stones, nuts, bones, beads, teeth, seeds, or anything small and hard were enclosed in containers or tied to ankles or wrists to make rattles. In the SCA we commonly hear them amongst the Middle Eastern dancers.

A modern African seed rattle

A Cameroon basket rattle

Wooden Maraca

Ankle or Wirst Bells


Drum - Among the most ancient instruments, the drum is virtually anything (hide, parchment, or skin) that is stretched over a hollow body (wood, metal, or clay). The timpani was first brought to Europe from Turkey in the 1500's and only high noblemen were allowed to own one, and for many years after they were considered aristocratic instruments used for fanfares along with trumpets. The most common drum seen in the SCA is the Bodhrán, an Irish drum. Oddly, the Bodhrán's history has been lost to time and it stood outside the realm of common instruments until the 1960's when the beginnings of the Celtic music craze started. In period it was likely only used in warfare, or by mummers in Ireland.

A Goblet shaped Drum.
"Cantigas de Santa Maria" (Alfonso X "E Sabio" (1221-1284)).

Kettle Drums.
Maqaamaat by Hariirii, painted in Baghdad in 1237 

Frame Drum or Bodhran

Timpani Drums.
1592, Turkish Military Band.