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Percussion DIY - Instrument Substitutions

By James Campbell

A well-equipped music program requires a significant investment to purchase the wide variety of percussion instruments and accessories needed to perform today's repertoire. In addition, young percussionists need experience on all the core instruments (mallets, timpani, snare drum) to develop their skills. A complete percussion education also involves exposure to world music and the percussion techniques brought by these genres. Some school music programs do not have the resources to include a wide selection of quality percussion instruments in their inventory, and may plan to address these needs over time. Although it should be the goal of every music director to provide the percussion section with all the equipment they need to perform their music, these alternatives may provide temporary substitutions until the authentic instrument can be acquired.


Anvil –> Automobile brake drum or steel pipe

Bar Chimes or Bell Tree –> Glissando on orchestra bells or vibes

Bongos –> Small pair of concert toms

Cajon –> Congas or djembe

Castanets –> Rim of a drum, wood block, or temple block with snare sticks

Chimes –> Orchestra bells or vibes played in a lower range

Claves –> Cross rim with stick on snare drum. Wood block with a rubber mallet. Hardwood dowel (1" diam., 8" long)

Concert Gong –> Large Chinese or oriental cymbal

Concert Toms –> Timbales, congas, bongos, snare drums (snares off)

Congas –> Concert toms, cajon, djembe

Cowbell –> Cymbal bell or automobile brake drum with snare drum stick

Crotales –> Orchestra bells with finger cymbals or triangle beaters

Djembe –> Congas, cajon

Drum Set –> Cajon

Finger Cymbals –> Triangle or edge of cymbal with triangle beater

Guiro –> Scrape a notched rhythm stick (Orff), pressed against a drum surface, with a snare drum stick

Hand Cymbals, pair –> Suspended cymbal with a wooden stick (like a crash)

Hi-Hat Cymbals –> Hand cymbals held together by another player. Strike a headless tambourine with sticks

Kick Drum –> Large drum with an attached foot pedal

Log Drum –> Cut differing lengths of hardwood planks (1" x 6") and rest on foam pad. Congas, djembe, cajon

Maracas or Tube Shaker –> Drink cans or discarded medicine bottles filled with BBs, rice, seeds, or dried beans

Marimba –> Xylophone with yarn mallets an octave lower than written. Vibraphone without engaging the pedal

Ratchet –> Roll on a snare drum rim with sticks, or sustained strokes on a guiro

Slapstick –> Rim-shot effect on a snare drum. Crash together two, long narrow pieces of hardwood

Sleigh Bells –> Individual bells (found at a craft store) that are strung together

Suspended Cymbal –> Hang a hand cymbal, by its strap, on a boom stand

Temple Block set –> Cut differing lengths of hardwood planks (1" x 6") and rest on foam pad

Timbales –> Concert toms or lower marching tenor drums with timbale sticks

Triangle –> Cymbal bell or cymbal edge with a triangle beater

Vibraphone –> Orchestra bells played in the lowest register, or a Marimba

Wood Block –> Rim of a drum or temple block with snare drum sticks

Xylophone –> Marimba 8va with rubber mallets

Additional Resource - The Percussive Arts Society Resource Library