The World of Percussion

Percussion: More than just drums. More than just rock and pop.

In the west, when we think of percussion, we think of drums. Especially drum set. The drum set has become an an essential part of western music, particularly in rock, pop, and jazz. Because of it's versatility and appeal, it is the most visible percussion instrument to the general public.

Even though drum set is the most popular percussion instrument, there's more to percussion than just drums. There's an entire world of percussion.

From steel pan in Trinidad to taiko drumming in Japan, many different countries and cultures from around the world have incredible styles of music that prominently feature percussion. We percussionists are extremely lucky in that we have the opportunity to be apart of so many amazing styles of music.

The purpose of this page is to expose percussion students to the wide variety of musical styles from around the world that feature many different percussion instruments. Although the majority of these musical styles are found outside of the United States, there are many opportunities to participate in musical groups like these in the U.S. Many colleges and universities have steel pan ensembles, samba baterias, Afro-Cuban groups, taiko groups, gamelan orchestra, etc., that welcome players of all skill levels. Many of these collegiate groups don't require members to be music majors. Additionally, you can find groups like these in many cities and towns in the US. There are many opportunities to play different types of music just by being a percussionist. Here is a list of different styles and genres of music that feature percussion:


Samba is a style of music that comes from Brazil. The origins of samba come from Africa due to the slave trade between Brazil and West Africa in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There are many types of samba, such as samba batucada, samba enredo, samba pagode, and bossa nova, among others. Samba features a large battery of drummers (known as the bateria), dancers, and string and wind instruments. Although there are many styles and types of samba, samba is for the most part very fast, exciting and energetic. Making use of a wide variety of Brazilian percussion instruments, samba uses chocalhos, tamborims, pandeiros, caixas, repiniques, surdos, agogo bells, cuicas, and many others.

Every year before the start of Lent, the celebration known as Carnaval takes place in cities all over Brazil. The biggest celebration takes place in Rio de Janeiro, which is famous for it's samba competition. Samba schools from Rio, known as escolas, compete against each other in a parade venue called the sambodromo. These escolas feature not only percussionists but also other musicians, singers, dancers, costumes and parade floats. This competition lasts several for several days and is immensely popular, attracting tourists from all around the world.


Just like in Brazil, the influence of the West African slave trade created the beginnings of traditional Cuban music, known as Afro-Cuban music. Like samba, Afro-Cuban music encompasses many forms of music that originated from the island of Cuba such as rhumba, salsa, danzon, comparsa, and different styles of sacred music. The influence of Afro-Cuban music on other styles of modern music has been profound. Instruments that are used in Afro-Cuban music include congas, claves, bongo, cajons, bata, guiros, timbales, and chekere.

Calypso & Soca

Calypso and Soca music come from the island of Trinidad and Tabago. Tracing its roots back to Africa and France, Soca and Calypso started in the first half of the 20th century. Making use of many western instruments, such as guitar, brass instruments, and piano/keyboards, Calypso and Soca also use many latin percussion instruments. Amoung these percussion instruments, one stands out above all of the others: the steelpan. The steelpan (sometimes referred to as the steel drum) comes from Trinidad and Tobago and was invented in the 20th century. Pan players, called pannists, formed groups of musicians that played only steelpans. Additionally, steelpans became a popular instrument in Calypso and Scoa bands. Every year in Trinidad, the annual "Panorama" competition is held. Steelpan groups from all over the island compete against each other by playing versions of popular Calypso songs arranged for steelpan orchestras. These steelpan orchestras are large groups and have many members who play many different types of pans.

African Drumming

African drumming is a term used to cover many different styles and forms of music found mostly in West Africa. There are many different cultures, nations, and countries in Western Africa that have their own, distinct musical styles. Many use similar drums including the djembe, dunun, aburukuwa, talking drum, and many others. In addition to drums, the balafon and jyil are percussino instruments that come from West Africa. They are both keyboard instruments and are the precursors to the modern xylophone and marimba.


Taiko drumming is a style of drumming that comes from Japan. Known in Japan as wadaioko, Japanese drumming has a long history of use in Japan, but modern taiko drumming was developed in the 20th century. Groups of taiko drummers form groups known as kumi-daiko. These kumi-daiko ensembles are usually unaccompanied and consist of just drums. Taiko drumming is also used for many different ceremonies, theater performances, and dances.


Gamelan ensembles are percussion ensembles from Indonesia. Made up mostly of mallet instruments, Gamelan ensembles play traditional Javanese and Balinese music.