Acoustic bands have many wonderful percussion options at their disposal. The question many musicians may have, though, is how to get the most of the instruments when going “unplugged”. Percussion for acoustic bands in that situation is a whole, other ball of wax. No musician wants their music to die in the air before the audience gets a chance to really appreciate it. There are musicians, though, who play “unplugged” regularly as part of an acoustic ensemble and they love it.
Many musicians would suggest that cajons are an almost perfect percussion instrument for acoustic bands. Cajons are basically wooden boxes that the percussionist sits upon and beats. Some have a snare effect and some don’t. Some have multiple playing surfaces and some only have one. Cajons are instruments that are gaining in popularity and, thus, gaining in accessories and options. There are cajons to fit every budget and musical desire. The fact that they perfectly complement the “unplugged” acoustic band is simply one in a long list of great things about cajons.
Other drums that would be perfect for an “unplugged” setup are congas and djembes. These instruments carry well and can be played mindfully so that they do not overpower the sounds produced by the other musicians. Many musicians find that congas and guitars go well together. Some musicians would recommend a cajon over a conga or djembe. This is not because congas or djembes are somehow deficient in “unplugged” and acoustic situations, but because audience members often give in to the urge to participate with the band when conga and djembe drums are played.
Tambourines and other frame drums may seem to have gone out of style in the ‘80s, but they are great for accents during acoustic play. Other perfect accent instruments are shekeres, claves, and maracas. Hand percussion instruments add dimension to the music played when going “unplugged”. Another benefit is that audience members may not be used to hearing the instruments played with any regularity, so they listen more closely and enjoy the musical experience more when such accents are used.
Cymbals are another great addition for any band planning to go “unplugged”. Cymbals can effectively accompany just about any genre of music and can be played in ways that add subtlety and nuance. For percussionists used to the hard-hitting sound of cymbals, learning to play softly while giving in to the passion cymbals seem to naturally evoke might be a welcome challenge. Regardless of which instruments chosen, the percussion choices for “unplugged” acoustic bands are varied and satisfying.