Percussion sounds are produced when a player hits, scrapes, rubs or shakes an instrument to produce vibrations. The same techniques can be applied to the human body. Additionally, the body has other unique possibilities including the use of inhaled or exhaled air and vocal sounds.
Body percussion involves using the body to generate percussive sounds. It may be performed alone or as an accompaniment to song. The folk traditions of many countries include the use of body percussion. Some examples include: Indonesian saman, Ethiopian armpit music, palmas in flamenco, and the hambone from the United States.
Traditionally the four main body percussion sounds (in order from lowest pitch to highest in pitch) are:
- Stomp: Stamping the feet against the floor or a resonant surface.
- Patsch: patting either the left, right or both thighs with hands
- Clapping hands together
- Click: snapping or clicking with the thumb and middle fingers
There are many other possibilities such as: hitting the chest, whistling, slapping or flicking the cheeks with an open mouth, clicking with the tongue against the roof of the mouth, grunting and hitting the buttocks. Variations of sound are possible through changing the playing technique. For example, clapping the hands in various positions will affect factors such as pitch and resonance.
Body percussion is used extensively in teaching music due to its accessibility—the human body is the original musical instrument and the only instrument that every student possesses. Using the body gives students a direct experience of musical elements, such as beat, rhythm, and metre helping them to internalise rhythmic skills. Certain approaches to music music education, including Orff and Kodaly make particular use of body percussion.
Body percussion may be performed solo or several performers may combine to create an musical ensemble. One of the most accomplished body percussion soloists is Keith Terry. Terry resides in San Francisco, California and in the 1980s he established Cross Pulse, a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance. Perhaps the most famous body percussion ensemble is the United Kingdom percussion group Stomp. Stomp perform in a musical genre known as trash percussion, which involves the use of non-traditional instruments combined with body percussion. In Brazil, the most well-known body percussion group is Barbatuques.
Author’s note: This is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Wikipedia