Brake Drum

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Instrument Name

Etymology and Alternative Spellings

See Also Metals


A brake drum is bowl shaped with a hole at its apex, and is made of metal. Brake drums are molded and come in a variety of diameters and thicknesses, two variables that when taken together determine the relative pitch a brake drum will produce when struck.


The brake drum is a percussion vessel idiophone, probably originating in North America in the 20th century. They are repurposed motor vehicle parts used primarily in contemporary American and European percussion ensemble compositions. However, they are also used as part of the ‘engine room’ percussion battery in the steel band music tradition of Trinidad and Tobago. The brake drum is a classic example of an ad hoc or found instrument--an object made for a non-musical purpose being utilized in music making. Professional percussionists active in the performance of contemporary music will often assemble a collection of variously-pitched brake drums from scrapyards.

Sticks, Mallets, Beaters

Metal-headed hammers are used to strike the brake drums.



Stroke Style/Type



See Also


Beck, John H., and James A. Strain. “Percussion Music,” in Grove Music Online, accessed June 27, 2015:
Holland, James. 2005. Practical Percussion. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.
________, and Janet K. Page. “Percussion,” in Grove Music Online, accessed June 27, 2015: