Since anything you hit with your hands or a drumstick to make noise can be considered a percussion instrument, there are a considerable number of popular percussion instruments from all over the world.
However, you can also find some rather weird drums that you may have never heard of before. We’re going to look at 10 of these unusual percussion instruments from around the world!
Unusual Percussion from Around the World
You may have heard of cajons before, but they definitely have their place on this list as they were originally used in native Peruvian music. They’ve made their way over to modern western music in recent times, and you’ll find many percussionists playing them in acoustic settings with guitars or pianos.
You play the cajon by sitting on top of it and hitting the front end with your hands. The front part has a thin layer of plywood that produces a slapping sound when you hit it near the edge. The sound is a bit warmer and round when the wood is struck in the middle. This gives you a snare and bass drum effect.
The agogo bells originated in Latin music. The design of the bells has both of them connected in a U shape. You’re meant to hold the bells at the end where they connect via a metal rod. The higher-pitched bell is intended to sit at the top while the lower-pitched bell sits at the bottom.
These bells are fairly similar to a cowbell. However, their pitch is much higher. In fact, the agogo bells are one of the highest-pitched percussion instruments in any Latin percussionist’s setup.
The great thing about agogo bells is that you get two distinct sounds to work with, allowing you to create varying pitches with the rhythms you play on them.
The vibraslap is a fairly recent invention compared to all the other percussion instruments on this list. It takes influence from old jawbones that were used to make rattling sounds. Latin Percussion created it in the 60s, and you can hear one of these being played in quite a few rock albums from the 70s.
To play the vibraslap, you need to hold the rod with one hand and strike the wooden ball with the other. This will trigger the jingles inside the wooden block, making a rattling sound.
Vibraslaps aren’t the most versatile percussion instruments around, but they sure are a lot of fun to play.
The guiro is another popular percussion instrument used in Latin American music. It has a hollow wooden frame that is topped with ridges on one side. You hold it in one hand while using a stick in the other to play it.
The guiro has two main sounds. The first is a short attacking wooden sound that you can get from simply hitting it with a stick. The second sound is a long ratchet sound that you can get from dragging the stick along the ridges.
While it’s mostly used in Latin ensembles, you can occasionally hear a guiro being played in a classical orchestra.
While tabla drums may seem like unusual percussion to the western world, they are in fact the most popular percussion instrument in India.
They’ve been around for centuries and are commonly heard in most Indian music today. You play the tabla by hitting the drums with your palms and fingers.
One of the drums is bigger and produces a deep sound while the other is smaller and produces a more attacking sound. Tabla playing is quite complex as it requires a serious amount of control from your hands. There are also specific rhythms that all table players learn to play.
Something interesting about tabla is that it gets mostly taught verbally instead of through notation.
The daf is arguably one of the most unique percussion instruments on this list. Not many people in the west have probably heard of it, but it’s the national instrument of Pakistan. It’s a large circular drum that has a wooden frame along with jingles and a soft skin. The skin is typically made from fish, goat skin, or synthetic layers of material.
You play the daf by holding it up and tapping it with your fingers. You can also shake it to make the jingles ring. Since it’s fairly large, it has a warm low-pitched tone. It’s surprisingly loud as it has a natural reverb effect thanks to all the jingles.
Djembes originate from West Africa and they’re commonly heard in many different types of African music. A djembe drum is fairly similar to bongos. However, djembes have much more tonal variety. You can get several sounds out of a single djembe, no matter what size it is.
Traditional djembes are rope-tuned. However, modern percussion companies also sell djembes that are tuned with lugs.
You play the djembe by striking the surface with your hands. You can get different tones and effects depending on how your hand is positioned when you hit the djembe.
Djembe players will typically hold the drum between their knees to keep it stable and elevated off the ground. If it sits on the ground when you play it, you won’t get the resonating sound that djembes are known for.
Castanets are pieces of wood held together by string. You hold a pair of them in each hand and hit them together with the use of your fingers. They have a sharp wooden sound that is very short. Experienced castanet players are able to play incredibly fast patterns with them.
The most common place to hear castanets is in dance music. Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese dance music all make use of these small wooden unusual percussion instruments.
Hang drums were invented fairly recently. A company called PANArt Hangbau AG created them to imitate steelpans. They’ve since become very popular, especially in meditative music scenes. They’re also commonly referred to as handpans.
You play them by tapping around the drum to bring the notes out. Each hang is created to stick to a specific range of notes in a certain key. So, you can’t play any wrong notes. They have a beautiful dreamlike sound.
The one thing to note about hang drums is that they’re infamously known to be expensive. I’ve put together a list of the best hang drums that you can buy on the market for you to check out right here.
One of the weird drums to mention on this list are the Japanese taiko. Taiko are large wooden drums that are played with thick wooden sticks. They vary in size, but it’s common to see taiko being played that are much bigger than the average person.
The Taiko has a very rich history in Japan, and a taiko performance will even have the players wearing specific clothes for the occasion.
The sound the drums make is massive, especially when you have more than one player playing them at a time.
There are dozens more rare percussion instruments that haven’t been mentioned here. Every culture in the world has unique instruments relative to its history. If you want to find more unique drums, you just need to research different cultures from around the world to see what instruments are used.
Many of these weird drums make their way over to the western world. If you’ve ever listened to the band Tool, you would have heard Danny Carey using unique percussion instruments within his standard drum setup.
While drums may seem fairly standard at a surface level, you’ll realize from all these unique instruments that they can be quite diverse!
If you are interested in percussion and you are considering adding some auxiliary percussion to your drum kit setup, you can read my list on some of the best options in my article on the best drum set add ons.