What Is the Difference Between Drums and Percussions?

by Steven J. Miller
A drum consists of a drumhead that the performer strikes.

A drum consists of a drumhead that the performer strikes.

Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

The difference between a drum and a percussion instrument creates confusion among those that don't know the intricacies of both instrument categories. While both instruments share similar characteristics, a drum consists of a very specific type of percussion instrument. Percussionists and drummers learn very early on to distinguish the difference by identifying the specific characteristics of each instrument.


Drums fall under the category of percussion instruments. However, not all percussion instruments can be considered drums. A drum specifically requires the instrument to produce an indefinite pitch and applies to instruments that are struck with drumsticks, mallets, beaters or the hands. Percussion instruments include any instrument that can be struck or hit with a mallet or that produces an extra-musical effect.

Drum Instruments

There are several types of drums, including snare drums, bass drums, bongos, congas, tom-toms and war drums. Each of these instruments historically used an animal skin that was stretched over a membrane. The skin, or drum head, can then be struck to produce rapidly developing rhythms, booming bass and help to drive the pulse of the piece forward. Drums must have a skin stretched over the top membrane of the instrument. For this reason, drums are often referred to as membranophones.

Pitched Percussion

Pitched percussion instruments are also commonly referred to as barred instruments. These instruments include any percussive instrument that must be struck to create sound, but produce a definite sound. Some examples of pitched percussion instruments are the xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells and the celesta. Each of these instruments are commonly available in symphony orchestras. They serve to provide accents to the main beats of a musical work and color melodies that double in the woodwind or brass section of the orchestra.

Non-pitched Percussion

Non-pitched percussion instruments must still be struck by a mallet, drum stick or beater, but they do not produce definite pitch. Drums are a subcategory of non-pitched percussion instruments. However, there are many other instruments that are not drums that also fall into this category. The triangle, whistle, maracas, wood blocks, temple blocks, castanets and hundreds of other small percussion instruments that don't create definite pitches and lack a membrane of drum head fall into this category.


About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images