A Closer Look at Special Effects Percussion
Sometimes, you come across instruments that have a pretty special origin-story, a unique design or even a weird sound. Companies that develop and produce percussion instruments often bring out some weird and wonderful sound-making tools designed to create a specific sound effect. In this blog, we take a closer look at some of the more remarkable percussive instruments out there and see how they can be deployed to mimic the sounds of nature, so you can build your own organic soundscapes.

The Sea Drum

A Closer Look at Special Effects Percussion
The Sea Drum is a frame drum with a drumhead on both sides, sealing a handful of small metal beads inside. The instrument is played horizontally so that, by gently tilting the drum back and forth, the beads roll across the resonant head, recreating the sound of waves. The frame of the drum also has a small hole in it, which can be blocked with a rubber plug, so the sound can be tweaked and varied from that of an immense open sea, to that of a babbling brook. Sea drums are often used to create soundscapes in films.

The Rainstick & Rainmaker

A Closer Look at Special Effects Percussion
A rainstick is usually made of a hollow length of bamboo punctured with loads of small sticks and filled with volcanic stones, beads or metal pellets. By turning the stick upside down, the beads or pellets fall through the bamboo and gently rattle against the smaller sticks to recreate the irregular, pitter-pattering sound of rain – pretty convincingly too. You can vary the rain-sound by adjusting the angle of the stick and by rotating it at various speeds. For a hard deluge of rain, simply tip the stick on its head, holding it straight up while quickly rotating it. For a softer, lighter shower, hold the stick at an angle and slowly move it round and round. Making the rainfall sound continuous (as the beads slowly ‘run out’) demands some technique, but it’s definitely possible, but to create a continuous rain-like sound, you could just as easily use a rainmaker. As a bonus, a rainstick can also be used as a sort of giant shaker.

The Spring Drum, Turbo Crasher & Slap Stick

A Closer Look at Special Effects Percussion
Now that we know how to mimic the sound of rainfall, we can really start creating some atmosphere by throwing a little thunder into the mix using a Spring Drum. This deep, hollow tube has a batter head at one end with a metal spring attached to the centre. To create the sound of thunder, all you need to do is move the drum around to make the spring flop from side to side and cause the drumhead to vibrate, which is then acoustically amplified by the hollow tube. You can actually get a similar sort of effect by striking a table with the edge of a large frame drum. And, while you can only usually see lightning, anyone who’s seen it strike close up will know that it also makes a cracking sound, which can be created with a Turbo Crasher or a Slap Stick.

The Frog Rasp, Night Sounds & Bird Sounds

A Closer Look at Special Effects Percussion
Now, we can really start to copy the sounds of nature and bring our sound-effect-based illusion to life with some animal and insect sounds. To start, you could add frog sounds, cricket sounds or bird sounds. The Frog Rasp is probably the most familiar among musicians, and was originally intended as a simple toy for Thai children. Over time, one or two frog rasps made their way into the hands of musicians who discovered that it was a great little bit of percussion. By running the stick back and forth across the ridged back of the wooden frog, it literally sounds like… a frog. By half-closing or completely closing the mouth of the frog, the pitch of the frog-noise can be varied, meaning that the Frog Rasp is probably a lot more versatile than you thought. For a clave-like sound, simply strike the tip of your frog’s nose with the stick. Tap your frog between the eyes or on the belly to get the sound of a classic wood block.

As well as frog-noises, we can also create the sound of crickets using a very specific instrument, aptly named The Night. By holding the instrument and rotating your wrist, four solid steel pellets make contact with a steel cylinder, resulting in something that sounds exactly like crickets at night. Believe it or not, you can also recreate the sound of a flock of birds taking flight with nothing more than a few wooden or fibreglass blocks hanging from a rope – another unique instrument that’s simply known as ‘Birds’ which, when played a certain way, can also sound a bit like a waterfall.

Put it All Together

Because it would be quite something if you had enough hands to play all of these percussive effects at the same time, you could do one of three things: recruit the help of a good friend; record each effect one by one using recording software like Cubase, Reason or Ableton; or use a Loop Station. There are, of course, plenty of other percussive sound-effects you could add to build on your soundscape – but alas – there are too many to list in this humble blog. However, here’s a quick roundup of some of the big hitters: the Kalimba, the Liquid Udu, the Liquid Triangle, the Galaxy and Tabla. To find even more, navigate over to our dedicated percussion department.

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