The Glossary Of World Percussion Instruments

Djembe: a West African goblet drum with ropes for tuning the goatskin head that is played by hand. The shell is made of various types of wood and it commonly has a head diameter of 12" and a height of 24".

Djun Djun: West African bass drums that come in three sizes: the kenkeni (highest pitch), sangban (middle pitch), and doundounba (low pitch). They are performed with one person playing with sticks on multiple drums, or a person playing on each drum, with one stick on the drum and one playing an attached bell.

Embaire: an eastern Ugandan xylophone played with mallets that earlier typically had 21 slats but now has 25 slats.

Ewe Drums: a group of drums that are prevalent throughout West Africa played by sticks and hand. The names of some of the drums are kagan, croboto, atsimevu, and boba. Music in the ensemble is mostly transmitted aurally.


Gankogui: a set of two iron bells used in Ewe music as a timekeeper and played by sticks. There are three syllables referring to the different strokes: tin, go, and ka.

Gyil: an instrument comprised of about 14 to 18 wooden slats played by sticks, which is used in Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Kidi: a medium-sized barrel-shaped drum with goatskin played with sticks in Ewe music.

Kpanlogo Drums: a hand-played West African drum traditionally played by the Ga people of Ghana. Usually goatskin or cowhide is stretched over the wooden shell, which is constructed in up to six different sizes.

Log or Slit Drum: a drum carved out of a hollowed log, containing slits or “tongues,” played with sticks or mallets, which is used for communication.

Sabar Drums: Senegalese drums played by sticks or mallets and used to communicate with neighboring villages. Usually a group of seven sabar drums make up the ensemble.

Talking Drum: a West African double-headed hourglass-shaped drum that is struck with a curved stick. The drum is played under one arm, while the rope is squeezed between the underarm and body in order to manipulate the pitch.


Udu: a clay pot or vase originally from Nigeria containing two holes, one on the side of the pot and one on top. It produces a unique bass tone when struck by hand on the side of the instrument.

South Asia

Percussion is prominent throughout South Asia. Most South Asian percussion literature focuses on Indian classical genres, such as Hindustani and Carnatic music. These styles employ the advanced rhythmic structure of tala. Many Indian percussion instruments are taught through a system of oral syllables that form a myriad of compositions and grooves.

Percussion is central to many more styles around the region, such as in the powerful qawwali music of Pakistan and the bharatanatyam classical dance music of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The lesser-known zerbaghalis and duhuls of Afghanistan, as well as Tibetan gongs and prayer bells are also fascinating instruments to consider.

Dafli: a hand-played/hand-held North Indian frame drum containing a skin stretched over a 10"-diameter wooden shell with two rows of jingles.

Dhol: a large barrel drum played with mallets and used in bhangra music, a form of folk music of farmers in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.


Dholak: a cylindrical double-sided hand-played drum made from sheesham wood that is primarily played in the folk music of north India, Pakistan, and Nepal. It is also used amongst the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean countries of Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname.

Ghatam: a South Indian clay pot that is held with its mouth toward the player’s belly and struck with palms and fingers.

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