With a name that means, “the hitting of one body against another,” instruments in the percussion family are played by being struck, shaken, or scraped. In the orchestra, the percussion section provides a variety of rhythms, textures and tone colors. Percussion instruments are classified as tuned or untuned. Tuned instruments play specific pitches or notes, just like the woodwind, brass and string instruments. Untuned instruments produce a sound with an indefinite pitch, like the sound of a hand knocking on a door. The percussion instruments are an international family, with ancestors from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe representing musical styles from many different cultures.

Made from two large, slightly concave brass plates, cymbals are fitted with leather hand straps and are shaped so that when they are crashed together, only the edges touch. Although cymbals are untuned instruments, different sized cymbals produce a wide range of sound effects. Some are so small that they are played with just the fingers. Cymbals are also played by being struck with drumsticks or mallets while suspended on a string or stand.