Blow it, bow it, bash it, smash it…


I am regularly asked by members of the audience “how many instruments do you play?” I normally reply “200 or so” and why this many? Each percussion instrument is different, has it’s own feel and balance, has different tones and timbres to one made by another manufacturer which can only be drawn from the instrument by playing it in a unique way. It takes weeks and sometimes months to initially become familiar with all the sounds available and then work to be able to instantly draw the required sound or sounds from the instrument.

As well as the different makes and models of tambourine, triangle, rasp/guiro/scraper, shakers, hand drums… the percussionist is often asked to perform and/or create sound effects. Examples of this are whip cracks (slapstick),

champagne cork pops (pop guns) and

bird calls (decoy whistles from the hunting and fishing shop).

In the photograph there are (left to right back) two swanee (slide) whistles, a peewit call 2 nightingale calls, a duck call, two cuckoo calls and a four-tone whistle. The front has a crow call, boatswain’s pipe (or call) and referee’s (pea) whistle.

Each one of these whistles is capable of a number of timbres, the one that they were made to imitate as well as some interesting overblown or softly blown sounds. In the recently published Toot Tango 2 ( I have explored some of these sounds as part of a percussion quartet with the option to add drum kit, tambourine and castanets (to make an ensemble of 5, 6 or 7 players).

Another technique I have explored in the work is quickly changing from one instrument to another during the music. The rapid change from one instrument to another is a common feature of much of the music I have performed in the more commercial music styles and that includes whistles and decoys. Time to prepare for the next sound or effect can be limited or non-existent and knowing the instrument very well is a necessity in this situation.

In my assortment of whistles, decoys and effects there are over 40 different instruments ranging in size and sound from a kettle whistle to a goose decoy. My collection of instruments have been considered, practised and I feel confident performing on each one so that is 40 down with another 160 to go.

You can buy a recording of Toot Tango 2 at or download the music (complete set of score and parts for up to 7 players) from my store and I hope you and your audience enjoy the music.


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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