Percussion Instruments and their History

James Blades
Forewords by Benjamin Britten Evelyn Glennie
Additional chapters by Evelyn Glennie Neil Percy

James Blades’ famous book has been referred to as the ‘percussionist’s bible’. It is established as the definitive reference work on the subject. This extended edition includes two additional chapters by leading solo percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, and by Neil Percy, Head of Timpani and Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music.







This definitive encyclopaedic work explores the origins of percussion through the development of the early drums and xylophones right up to the wide range of modern instruments and the sounds they make. James Blades covers these early developments globally from China and the Far East, India and Tibet, the early civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia through to mediaeval and renaissance Europe. He continues to examine the role of percussion in the classical and romantic orchestras and finally looks at the ways composers have pushed the boundaries in modern music. Each chapter has its own photographs, illustrations and bibliography and there are comprehensive indices referencing all the composers and works discussed.


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About the Author

James Blades, renowned percussionist and scholar, and for many years Professor of Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music, received wide acclaim for his book Percussion Instruments and Their History. Always in demand as one of England’s foremost percussionists, he played under some of the most distinguished conductors in the world. For years he collaborated with Benjamin Britten as percussion advisor, acting as his personal percussionist and developing many of the composer’s more unusual percussion effects. He was awarded the Hon.RAM (Royal Academy of Music), the Order of the British Empire, and Hon.M.Mus (University of Surrey). Dame Evelyn Glennie is the world’s premier solo percussionist, performing worldwide with the greatest orchestras, conductors and artists. Her solo recordings exceed 40 CDs and are as diverse as her career on-stage. A double GRAMMY award winner and BAFTA nominee, Evelyn is also a composer for film, theatre and television. Evelyn was awarded an OBE in 1993 and has over 100 international awards to date, including the Polar Music Prize and the Companion of Honour. Neil Percy is Head of Timpani and Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music. A member of the London Symphony Orchestra for more than 25 year, Neil has worked closely with many major artists and conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Francois Xavier-Roth, Sir Karl Jenkins, Ravi Shankar, Kent Nagano and Elgar Howarth.
This extended edition includes two important new chapters. The first covers the rise of the solo percussionist and is written by the world’s leading practitioner and one of Blades’ former pupils, Dame Evelyn Glennie, who also contributes a new Foreword, while recent developments in orchestral percussion are covered by Neil Percy, Head of Timpani and Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music and Principal Percussionist of the London Symphony Orchestra.


Foreword to the first edition by Benjamin Britten
Author’s Preface
Foreword to this enlarged edition by Evelyn Glennie
1. Origins of Percussion
2. The Drum
3. The Primitive Xylophone
4. Percussion Instruments of China and the Far East
5. Japan
6. India and Tibet
7. Mesopotamia and Egypt
8. Greece and Rome
9. Arabia and Persia
10. Mediæval and Renaissance Europe
11. Nakers and Kettledrums
12. The Classical Orchestra
13. The Romantic Orchestra – 1
14. The Romantic Orchestra – 2
15. Techniques of Contemporary Percussion
16. Composers’ Use of Modern Percussion
17. The Modern Solo Percussionist by Dame Evelyn Glennie
18. The Modern Orchestral Percussionist by Neil Percy
1. The Americas
2. The Latin American Orchestra
3. Changing Styles in Light Music
4. Use of Percussion in Education
5. Inventions and Patents
Recommended Technical and Recital Literature
Glossary of Principal Terms


This extraordinary scholarly publication has been the “get to” source for many of us over the years and, for me personally, still remains as a vital tool for my exploration of percussion.
Dame Evelyn Glennie

‘Mr Blades has managed to work in a truly encyclopedic number of allusions to this or that effect, this and that composer, work and trick ….’
‘Mr Blades, the scholar, yields partial place to Mr Blades the performer for an enormous and exemplary chapter on the percussionist’s art….’
The book’s lavish photographs and drawings are an endless source of pleasure.
The Times Literary Supplement

Undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive books written on the subject, it is completely absorbing, despite its formidable size.
British Journal of Music Education