This family is the biggest in the orchestra, in terms of the number and variety of instruments. Anything that can be hit is called percussion. Even a saucepan or a bottle can be called percussion!
Some play notes and others just make sounds. They are the rhythm section of the orchestra and help the orchestra to stay together.
Apart from being a solo star instrument, the piano was originally used in the orchestra to add strength to weak bits of music. However, since the early 1900s the piano has become more equal and, aside from playing along with the others, it often gets passages to play alone.
The piano is sometimes put into the percussion family, but it can also be in its own family, the keyboards. The piano comes in two basic types – the upright and the grand. It is now one of the most popular and versatile instruments of all.
It has a keyboard with 88 keys. Sound is produced on the piano by small hammers striking strings. The hammers are controlled mechanically and strike the strings when the player's hands press the piano keys. You can play lots of keys at once with both hands.
Cymbals consist of thin, normally round plates made from metal. These can be big, small and even tiny. They are used in many musical contexts ranging from the orchestra, percussion ensembles, jazz bands, heavy metal bands and marching groups.
This family needs no fanfare! Brass instruments can fit in anywhere: orchestras, brass bands, pop groups – you name it.
The timpani are a percussion instrument, but they always have a special part written for them.
They are made from parchment or skin which is stretched across enormous copper bowls and then hit with a stick. Each drum is tuned to a different note but the modern timpani can change notes after being hit, by using a foot pedal.
Similar to the xylophone, it is composed of a set of tuned keys arranged in the style of a piano keyboard. It is made from metal bars and sounds very high.
The xylophone is made of bits of wood that are tuned to different notes. The player uses sticks, or beaters, to hit the wooden bars, sometimes as many as six at a time.