An Intro to Acoustic Percussion

Hi All! I didn’t see any general percussion or drum threads in a quick search but feel free to move this if one exists…

I would like to have discussion about acoustic drums and percussion from the standpoint of a non-percussionist.

What instruments do the other non-percussionists recommend as a starting point? From a drummer or percussionists standpoint, what tips for getting basic, useable sounds out of everyday objects or instruments (i.e. a nice bass drum/kick, a functional snare, interesting ticks to keep a track moving)? Any resources in general?

I am a guitar player, first and foremost, and electronic noodler second and have no technical or practical background playing drums or any other percussion instruments besides the hap-hazard banging on the top of my acoustic guitar. I think I would like to start with something like a floor tom, snare drum, and cymbal but don’t know what to look for in an expensive/cheap set (or if it even matters for what I’m looking for). I plan to mostly sample these sounds or create short loops using heavy processing if necessary - hopefully, not much coordination required! Eventually, I’d like to pick up smaller hand instruments but don’t have a large budget to deploy.

While I use and enjoy drum machines, I would like to incorporate acoustic sounds into my work just to incorporate a more tactile approach. I’ve recently began field recording with my H5 and will continue doing this.


Former drummer who has been looking at getting back into playing recently. My perspective is from someone who enjoys more groove/beat oriented playing than free-form styles.

My personal opinion is that you get diminishing returns from spending more on drum shells. If you are looking for a resonant and lively drum sound I would spend more, but if you are looking to dampen your heads to get a drier sound than I would look for something cheaper. In general larger drums will be louder because they can move more air, but there are other factors such as the player, tuning, and head choice.

All the established major brands make good drums in my opinion. I would mainly look to see if the hardware (hoops, lugs, etc.) are free from rust and pitting and can move unobstructed. If tone is important also make sure the drums are round and the bearing edges (what the head rests on) are intact; that can be checked by stripping the heads and putting it on a flat surface.

Cymbals are a whole subject in themselves. I would steer away from cheaper cymbals, but they can be useful for special effects. When looking for used cymbals things to look for are cracks and keyholing (when the hole in the middle is enlarged due to friction on the cymbal stand). Cracks aren’t inherently bad, but they will reduce the longevity and tone of the cymbal.


I will revisit this topic and give more detailed answers but can quickly say…trust your ears. If you know what you like (or have a specific vision for the track) be willing to record the sound “right” rather than rely too heavily on fx / eq / other processing. Or conversely, if processing is the point I’m not sure the way you record the drums matters very much.

Frankly if it’s being mixed with other elements your initial plan might have to be thrown out the window if it doesn’t sit well with the accompanying sounds.

So really i dunno what i’m talking about ha!


Are you really from Raleigh?

If so, I recommend going into 2112 Percussion and picking up either a trap kit or pieces of a trap kit you fancy.

I got a bd, sd, floor tom, other toms, hh, and ride for ~200$ a couple years ago. I don’t know the brand but they definitely sound like DRUMS.

If I got into DRUMS more, I’d immediately invest in a better ride cymbal but otherwise, yeah, DRUMS.


I am and currently reside in Raleigh - I work in the downtown area… maybe I can swing by 2112 on a lunch break. I was perusing abandoned drum kits for sale on CL and realized I know nothing about them. Everything I’ve read is from the standpoint of playing drums in a band context - not really what I want. Thanks for the tip about a trap kit - seems like a decent starting point.

I’ve never played a drum set, but I’ve collected a bunch of hand drums, and also performed with St. Louis Osuwa Taiko for a couple of years

For hand drums, I would recommend:

  • frame drum: a tar, or basic Remo Fiberskyn frame drum. These are easy to play, pretty inexpensive, capable of a variety of tones and pretty nice sounding. Larger ones can sound deep, huge and ominous, but tend not to be loud (which is great for recording and neighbors, not so much for a big drum circle). There’s nothing like playing one at the top of a stairwell :slight_smile: Traditionally played by hand but you could also use a felt mallet. There are also varieties with metal shot in them (“ocean drums”) or jingles that rattle against the head (dayereh) but I’d recommend a basic one first. There’s also the Irish bodhran, but I admit I just can’t the hang of proper technique with it.

  • doumbek / darbuka: there are small, cheap metal shell / acrylic head ones that are more Egyptian bellydance in feel, and medium clay ones that I personally prefer.

  • djembe or ashiko: African, wood shelled, typically natural skin rope-tuned drums that can get more expensive but sometimes you’ll find them for less. These are not quiet instruments. I’d describe the djembe as more punchy while the ashiko’s are generally softer yet with deeper bass tones and more complex mids. Traditionally there are differences in technique, but being self-taught and playing by instinct, I couldn’t tell you what those are.

  • Wright Hand Drums “Gunta”: in the $60-$200 range, these are a modern hybrid ceramic drum with a lot of variety of sounds and extended techniques.

Of all these options I personally prefer frame drums for solo use and recording, or a djembe or ashiko for drum circles and getting people dancing. (Also really annoying the DJ if you bring it to a party and play along while drunk. :blush:)


Also, in all seriousness, large plastic water bottles (I think it’s PET rather than HDPE) can work very nicely for recording.

The big ones used for water coolers sound pretty great on their own. I’ve used round 32oz (??) juice bottles pitched down a bit to add some supplemental percussion to tracks (back when I used percussion more).


This is possibly a glib way to post a link to a very wonderful piece of music- but the use of a gourd
floating in a tub of water is as great a kick sound as any…( i have seen this is a few African music films)


i’m a drummer :slight_smile:
'trap kit is jazz talk for 'contraption
meaning that with a hi hat pedal
and a kick drum pedal
one cat can play 'all the drums
earlier, all trap kits had a set of chinese wood blocks
many parallels with modular synthesizer rigs…, it goes in waves of fashion and convention
most drummers now use a 'hi-hat and not a 'low-boy
size, portability developments apply as well
what @glia says 'trust your ears
this video also has some colonial commentary about colonial mindset…
('work… easier, etc)

whatever it is, make peace with the reflections coming back to your ears
'play music


I picked up playing the djembe about six months back and have been very much enjoying the journey. I didn’t have any prior percussion playing experience and like anything the more I learn the more I realize there is to learn.

Like @Starthief mentioned it is definitely not a quiet instrument. If going with a more traditional natural skin + rope djembe I would recommend figuring out how to get it properly tuned up. My understanding is that goat skin is generally the most common but cow/calf skin is also used be it less traditional. Cow skin is typically thicker than goat which makes it more durable - potentially nice if your environment is subject to large temperature/humidity swings. Sound wise cow/calf is a bit more muted than goat but all of the drums I tested out varied wildly in tone due to differences in skin type and size/materials of the shell. In the end I just tried lot’s of them and chose the one which I could get the most distinct tone vs slap along with a pleasing bass.

In the Los Angeles area I strongly recommend visiting Motherland Music. They do sell online but the online selection represents only a fraction of what they have in shop. All their drums are beautiful and unique (particularly their full size djembes).

So far I’ve been happy with what I can get with it; recording some patterns in Live, then adding electronic elements over that (often with Kaivo and Aalto). I’ve found starting with a traditional African rhythm as a base and launching off from there to be fun and fruitful.


Water cooler bottles do sound good for hand drumming.

If you’re playing guitar, you’d probably enjoy getting started with a kick under one foot and a hi-hat or tambourine under the other.

A tambourine affixed to the hi-hat pedal doesn’t sound as harsh as a hi-hat.

If you’re sitting down to play guitar, then it’s just like have your tapping feet amplified.

Alternately you could try one of those stomp boxes that have a piezo element to amplify the click of your boots on a small wooden box.


Just want to co-sign this. Not an LA resident but have had pleasant interaction with the staff while picking up two items online.

This is my new go-to source for percussion. Very authentic (i can speak for the nigerian drums i checked) high quality materials and they seem to also have informative descriptions for all items


Ohhhh Motherland seems to have quite affordable oghene’s, will definitely have to check those out.

I’ve always been very inclined to play percussion but never had the independence to play kit. A few years ago I got a Remo djembe which I mainly picked so that I could tune it easily, but it also has a synthetic drum head and a metal inner hoop so it doesn’t really sound like a traditional djembe at all. Regardless the drum is quite loud / resonant as @Starthief has mentioned, so much so that I can’t really play it in a traditional manner in my second floor row home apartment without pissing someone off.

So given these limitations and my interest in playing outside of traditional technique, I’ve experimented until I came up with a different kind of playing style. I stuffed the base of the drum with a large cloth to kill all the resonance and have the head tuned very tight so the synthetic skin has a very snappy response. Hand technique is highly modified. I play with the outside of my right palm almost in constant contact with the drum head but with varying pressure to create different decay times of the skin.

I also utilize three appendage groupings for distinct strokes: the side of my right thumb in the center as a bass thump (think sharp kick beater, not a boomy bass), the tips of my index+middle+ring fingers on my left hand for tone and slap sounds at the rim, and the underside of the first knuckle on my right middle finger (in between the center and rim) for ghost notes and rolls. I do use both hands for slaps and bass sounds occasionally, but over time I’ve found I stay mostly stationary at this position, rhythmically pivoting between these three points of contact.

It’s been a lot of fun to figure out what kind of playing style works best for the cross section between this instrument and my interests. At one point I had one of those Remo tone dots in the center of the head but the drum became too tonal for my liking. Also, I’m often playing alone to explore patterns that I can apply to the electronic realm; haven’t had the courage to meet some strangers at the park and show them how I’ve bastardized the instrument.


I’ve bought more than a few things from Lark In the Morning, often percussion instruments that I struggled to find anywhere else…


I’m completely stuck in the Afro-Caribbean folkloric rhythm wormhole right now. Haven’t turned on my synths for months except to check some repairs. What a staggeringly deep and rich neighborhood of music this is. I thought I had some idea, but it turns out I had no idea.


This is wonderful! I love Tinariwen but somehow never heard of this… Made my day!


that’s one of the things i got!
just recently found out what they’re called (i already had two small singles acquired from my uncle as a teen)

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Nice! How do you like it / what size did you get?

I’ve been thinking about getting one since I discovered this video earlier this year, the balance of limitation / expression with the three main strokes + muting is right up my alley. & of course the players are stellar; I love how they lock in so seamlessly when the dude in blue joins.


I regularly use my water bottle as a cowbell. It’s a big metal one, 750 ml, with four distinct tonal areas; the neck, the rim, the body and the base. Plus, you can alter the pitch if you add water.

Just don’t do what I did the other day and forget there is water in it, and turn it upside down next to your computer.

Is it okay to post a link?

edit; besides being handy at impromptu jamborees, they are fantastic bottles with a sort of thermos-esq function as well.


Water vessels (no pun intended) are super fun to play! I’ve had fun experimenting with different water levels in mason jars; using a two piece lid is especially interesting, variety of pitched tones with how much tension is used to screw the rim piece on.