Is a Guitar a Percussion Instrument?

Some argue that the guitar is a percussion instrument because it produces sound by striking or plucking the strings and the body of the guitar can also be drummed. Others argue that it is a stringed instrument because the strings vibrate to produce sound. So, which is it?

Is a Guitar a Percussion Instrument?

Key Takeaways

  • The guitar is not considered a percussion instrument by definition.
  • The guitar shares some characteristics with percussion instruments, such as rhythm and timing. A guitar’s body can also be “drummed” when playing, this is why the guitar can technically be considered to be a percussion instrument
  • Percussive techniques can be used on the guitar, but it is still primarily a stringed instrument.

First, we must first define what a percussion instrument is…

Defining Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments are traditionally known for producing sound by being struck, shaken, or scraped. Drums, maracas, tambourines, and xylophones are all quintessential examples of percussion instruments. They create rhythmic and percussive sounds that provide the backbone of many musical compositions.

Is a Guitar a Percussion Instrument?

While a guitar might seem to be primarily a stringed instrument due to its strings and melodic capabilities, it also has a percussive aspect to its sound production. When you play the guitar, your fingers or a pick strike the strings, causing them to vibrate and produce sound. This striking motion, combined with the resonance of the guitar body, generates percussive elements in the music.

The Role of Strumming and Drumming

The percussive nature of a guitar becomes more evident when you consider the strumming and drumming techniques used by guitarists. Strumming involves sweeping your fingers or a pick across the strings, creating a rhythmic and percussive element that complements the melody. In fingerstyle playing, drumming on the guitar’s body with your fingers & hands adds an unmistakable percussive quality to the music.

The Guitar is a Hybrid Instrument?

In essence, the guitar can be seen as a hybrid instrument. It’s not a pure percussion instrument like a drum, nor is it solely a melodic instrument like a flute. Instead, it combines elements of both to produce a rich and diverse soundscape. Its versatility allows it to serve as the rhythmic backbone of a band or the leading melodic instrument in a solo performance.

Comparing Guitars and Percussion Instruments

The beat is an essential component of music, and percussion instruments are designed to produce percussive sounds by tapping, striking, or shaking. In contrast, guitars produce sound by vibrating strings. However, the sound produced by a guitar is also influenced by the way it is played. For example, tapping on the body of a guitar produces a percussive sound that is similar to that of a drum.

Drums and cymbals are the most common percussion instruments, and they are used to keep the beat in most music genres. Guitars, on the other hand, are not primarily used for keeping the beat. However, in certain music styles like flamenco, tapping on the body of a guitar is used to produce a percussive beat that complements the melody.

A snare drum is a percussion instrument that produces a sharp, staccato sound. The snare drum is used to create a backbeat in most music genres. Similarly, the sound produced by tapping on the body of a guitar can also be used to create a backbeat. This technique is commonly used in genres like blues and rock and roll.

Guitars in Different Music Genres

As a guitar can produce both melodic and rhythmic sounds, it is a versatile instrument that can be used in a variety of music genres. In pop and rock music, the guitar is often the lead instrument and is used to create catchy riffs and solos. The electric guitar, with its ability to produce distortion and other effects, has become an iconic sound in these genres.

  • In folk music, the guitar is often used as an accompaniment to vocals, and fingerpicking styles are common. The acoustic guitar is the most popular type of guitar in folk music, and its warm and natural sound complements the genre’s storytelling nature.
  • In orchestral music, the guitar is sometimes used as a solo instrument or as part of the ensemble. In these cases, the guitar is typically played in a classical style, with nylon strings and fingerpicking techniques.
  • In metal music, the guitar is often used to create heavy, distorted sounds and fast-paced solos. The electric guitar is the most common type of guitar used in metal, and players often use techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking to create a unique sound.

Overall, while the guitar is not typically considered a percussion instrument, it can be used to create rhythmic sounds and is an important component of many music genres.

Examples of Percussion Instruments

As a percussion instrument, the guitar is a bit of an outlier. However, there are many other instruments that are more commonly associated with percussion. Here are a few examples:

  • Drums: Drums are perhaps the most well-known percussion instruments. They come in many different shapes and sizes, from the snare drum to the bass drum to the timpani.
  • Tambourine: The tambourine is a handheld instrument that is often used in folk music. It consists of a circular frame with metal jingles attached to it.
  • Maracas: Maracas are a type of percussion instrument that are often used in Latin music. They consist of a pair of hollow balls filled with beads or seeds.
  • Xylophone: The xylophone is a percussion instrument that consists of a series of wooden bars that are struck with mallets to produce sound.
  • Triangle: The triangle is a simple percussion instrument that consists of a metal rod bent into a triangle shape. It is struck with a metal beater to produce a high-pitched ringing sound.
  • Cowbell: The cowbell is a percussion instrument that is often used in rock music. It consists of a metal bell that is struck with a drumstick to produce a ringing sound.

These are just a few examples of the many percussion instruments that exist. While the guitar may not be a traditional percussion instrument, it is still capable of producing percussive sounds through techniques such as strumming, tapping, and slapping.


In conclusion, while the guitar is often considered a stringed instrument, it can also be classified as a percussion instrument. This is due to the fact that when a guitar is played, the strings are struck or plucked, creating a percussive sound.


Are all string instruments considered percussion instruments?

No, not all string instruments are considered percussion instruments. The classification of a string instrument as a percussion instrument depends on how the instrument is played and the sound it produces.

What distinguishes a guitar from a percussion instrument?

A guitar is not typically considered a percussion instrument as it is primarily played by plucking or strumming the strings, which produces a harmonic sound. Percussion instruments, on the other hand, are typically played by striking, shaking, or scraping the instrument to produce a rhythmic sound. While a guitar may have some percussive qualities, such as tapping on the body or strings, it is not the primary function of the instrument. Therefore, a guitar is classified as a string instrument rather than a percussion instrument.

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