You’ll probably build out your collection of toys as the need arises for a particular sound, but here’s an overview of some common ones. Don’t underestimate the power of non-drum kit instruments! They’ll add crucial texture to your beats and songs. As the drummer, it’ll probably fall on you to come up with all the percussion ideas, even if you don’t end up playing them live. If you’re playing in a band, get the rest of the group started on drum lessons now so they can pick up these kind of parts as they come along and play them well. Your singer better know how to tambo.
Tambourines come from the Middle East and are made up of a wooden ring of varying size, metal discs that jangle called zils, and often a head across one side. In rock music, they’re often shaken back and forth with one hand and struck with the heel of the other to accent beats. There are also drum-mounted tambourines that are stuck with a drum stick and hi-hat-mounted ones called “hat tricks” that jangle with a close of the hi-hat. Non-rock techniques include balancing the tambourine upright with one thumb in the thumb hole, the head facing out, and playing the head and zils with your fingers, and the thumb roll, where you hold the tambourine flat, wet your thumb, and run it across the head, creating a stuttering movement that vibrates the zils.
Finger cymbals are two thick, tiny cymbals with straps. To play, you pinch the straps in each hand so the cymbals dangle flat and bring the edge of one cymbal to strike the top of the other, creating a brassy ring like a small bell.
Another rock staple, the woodblock is (often) drum-mounted and is a mostly solid wood block with a sound hole carved out of one half. Hitting the thinner side with the edge of your stick will create a woody “clock” sound.
Use carefully, as the cowbell is one of the loudest aux instruments. You can get a lot of tones out of a cowbell, and they come in all sizes. Hold it in your palm with the hole facing out. Hitting the edge with the edge of your stick and minimal contact from your hand will create a loud metal clunk. Hitting different parts of the cowbell and experimenting with palm muffling will create different tones that you can you by themselves or together to create more nuanced beats. These also come with drum mounts, which afford less control over tone, but will let you rock the fuck out a la “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Christopher Walken wasn’t all wrong when he asked for more cowbell, as a well-mixed and well-placed cowbell can be oh so sweet.
Triangles come in many sizes as well. They’re made of a single metal rod bent to make a triangle that doesn’t quite connect with itself. It should have a string or strap on one corner for you to hold. Add a simple hardware clamp or rod of some kind to the strap so it can rest between your thumb and pointer finger, giving you the ability to muffle the triangle with your fingers. Mixing muffled and open hits with the metal beater will allow you to create tasty triangle grooves. These can also be hung on your set and are sold with stands to allow you to hit it with a stick. You lose control over muffling, but it’s easier to work into a kit beat.
“Shakers” is a general term for all the instruments that rattle when you shake them. There are too many variations on this to count, but common ones are egg shakers and plastic or metal tubular shakers. Lots of rock songs actually have shakers down in the mix to add a slushy quality to the beat. Experiment with different tones and beats to add interesting color to your songs. Different containers, coarse or fine filling, and “world” shakers with nuts and shells all have unique tones. Shakers can also be used for acoustic versions of your electric songs to give a steady beat in lieu of your ride or hi-hat.
The Zilbel is a thick, small cymbal make by Zildjian. It’s a pretty loud and specific sound, so hear one before you buy one, and make sure your song needs it. I’ve heard it in metal beats and as a special “dong!” effect. I’ve only ever used it when doing a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Here Comes the Sun” as a replacement for the finger cymbals.
A christmas song necessity. Any song becomes a christmas song with the steady chug of sleigh bells. Hold them in your fist like a gear-shift, “upside-down,” with bells below the handle. Hit the butt of the handle with your other fist to make the bells jingle.