Auxiliary Percussion

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A common sub-classification of percussion instruments that is comprised of "toys" or special sound effects. Their main function is to provide a sound that is either comical or meant to simulate a known sound. Common and Uncommon Percussion Instruments used in Band and Orchestra are listed below.

Common Auxiliary Percussion Instruments


A tambourine is a musical instrument which you shake or hit with your hand. It consists of a drum skin on a circular frame with pairs of small round pieces of metal all around the edge.


A percussion instrument is struck – most commonly with a metal beater, to give the instrument a bright, ringing tone. Apart from in the classroom, Triangle is used in a lot of different musical contexts. In samba music, in a lot of Brazilian traditional music, and in classical music too. And, by the way, we’d say that if Brahms is happy to put the triangle to use, there is no reason why you should think it’s daft yourself.


When used in an orchestral or jug band setting, castanets are sometimes attached to a handle, or mounted to a base to form a pair of machine castanets. This makes them easier to play, but also alters the sound, particularly for the machine castanets. It is possible to produce a roll on a pair of castanets in any of the three ways in which they are held. When held in the hand, they are bounced against the fingers and palm of the hand; on sticks, bouncing between fingers and the player's thigh is one accepted method. For a machine castanet, a less satisfactory roll is obtained by the rapid alternation of the two castanets with the fingers.


A güiro is a wooden or plastic “fish-shaped” gourd with thick ridges carved onto on side and two holes for gripping on the other. The player scrapes the ridges with a stick or triangle beater with one hand while holding in the other.


A cabasa is a metal cylinder mounted on a handle, covered with rings of metal beads. To play, the percussionist can shake or twist the cabasa against the palm, creating a rattling, scratchy sound.

Temple Block

The temple block is a percussion instrument originating in China, Japan and Korea where it is used in religious ceremonies. It is a carved hollow wooden instrument with a large slit. In its traditional form, the wooden fish, the shape is somewhat bulbous; modern instruments are also used which are rectangular in shape. Several blocks of varying sizes are often used together to give a variety of pitches

Wood Block

The orchestral wood block of the West is generally made from teak or another hardwood. The dimensions of this instrument vary, although it is either a rectangular or cylindrical block of wood with one or sometimes two longitudinal cavities (Blades and Holland 2001). It is played by striking it with a stick, which produces a sharp crack. Alternatively, a rounder mallet, soft or hard, may be used, which produces a deeper-pitched and fuller "knocking" sound.


Claves are a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of short, wooden sticks about 20–25 centimeters (8–10 inches) long and about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in diameter. Although traditionally made out of wood (typically rosewood, ebony or grenadilla) many modern manufacturers, such as Latin Percussion, offer claves made out of fiberglass or plastic. When struck, claves produce a bright, penetrating clicking noise. This makes them useful when playing in large dance bands. Claves are sometimes hollow and carved in the middle to amplify the sound.


A maraca, sometimes called rumba shaker or chac-chac,is a rattle which appears in many genres of Caribbean and Latin music. It is shaken by a handle and usually played as part of a pair.

Wind Chimes

Wind chimes are a type of percussion instrument constructed from suspended tubes, rods, bells or other objects that are often made of metal or wood.

Uncommon Auxiliary Percussion Instruments

Bell Tree

A bell tree is made of of graduated metal cups mounted on a rod, with the largest cup on top and moving down to the smallest. The part will typically call for a glissando, which can be played by scraping a hard mallet or triangle beater down the cups.

Agogo Bells

Agogo bells consist of two conical shaped metal bells attached to either end of a curved rod. One bell is significantly higher in pitch than the other. If the ensemble does not have Agogo Bells, two different pitched cowbells may be used in a pinch. Depending on the arrangement and desired sound, agogo bells can be played with sticks or triangle beaters.


The flexatone is a thin sheet of metal attached to a handle. On either side of the sheet are two more sheets, thinner and each with a rubber ball on the end. The player holds the instrument by the handle and shakes. The balls striking either side of the metal sheet create a ghost-like sound often used to add paranormal-type special effects.


The vibraslap is a thick metal rod with a block of wood filled with metal “teeth” on on end, and a wooden ball on the other. The rod is bent to create a handle, placing the ball in front of the block. To play, the percussionist grips the vibraslap by the metal rod handle and strikes the ball with his/her palm. The impact causes the teeth to vibrate, generating a rattling sound.


Pronounced “shay-keh-ray”, this instrument may be referred to in the score as “chekeré” or “xequerê.” The shekere is a plastic or wooden gourd covered with a net weaved with beads. To play, the percussionist holds the narrow end of the gourd in one hand and rests the bottom in the other hand. Tossing the gourd back and forth causes the beads to slide against the wood or plastic, creating a much deeper rattle than a shaker or cabasa.

Brake Drum

This instrument is exactly what it sounds like: a brake drum from a car wheel. The brake drum can be played with sticks or a triangle beater. If the ensemble does not have access to one, a cowbell can be used in a pinch, or the director can visit the local auto shop and pick one up!


Timbales are shallow single-headed drums with metal casing. They were developed as an alternative to classical timpani in Cuba in the early 20th century and later spread across Latin America and the United States. Timbales are struck with wooden sticks on the heads and shells, although bare hands are sometimes used. The player (called a timbalero) uses a variety of stick strokes, rim shots, and rolls to produce a wide range of percussive expression during solos and at transitional sections of music, and usually plays the shells (or auxiliary percussion such as a cowbell or cymbal) to keep time in other parts of the song.