Skip to main content

Browse Mode

Percussion: an introduction, and the tam-tam and gong

David Hockings takes a look at percussion from around the world

Throughout history percussion instruments have been used in different cultures and traditions all over the world. David Hockings takes a look at the gong and tam-tam and demonstrates how they’re played.

Apart from the human voice, percussion instruments are the oldest mode of music-making. Most percussion instruments are not tuned, just hit, and the basic structure of a hollowed piece of wood or a skin stretched across an open hole can be found in the earliest music-making known.

For a long time in the history of Western classical music, percussion has played a significant role. Until the 18th century few percussion parts were written out, because a player was expected to improvise them. A good example is the Funeral Music for Queen Mary composed by Henry Purcell. The percussion part is a modern reconstruction of what the editor thinks might have played in the 17th century.

The tam tam

Percussion instruments appear in all musical cultures and some of them have travelled between different styles and traditions of music. The gong, for instance, originated in Chinese temple music but has found its way into Western classical music in works like Puccini’s Turandot and Vaughan Williams’s Eighth Symphony. Its sister instrument the tam-tam plays an overwhelming role in Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum.

David Hockings of Britten Sinfonia talks about the tam-tam and the gong.

Like this? Send it to a friend

Like this? Send it to a friend: