Guide to the Triangle

A triangle is a percussion instrument that is made out of a steel rod bent into the shape of a triangle. Sometimes, other types of metal are used, such as copper. As a percussion instrument, it is struck by a metal beater to produce the triangle’s bright sound. Much like the xylophone and marimba, the triangle is an instrument that vibrates when struck.

One thing one may notice is that this instrument is not quite a full triangle. It has one corner missing.The reason for this is that if this instrument was made as a full triangle, it would produce only a single pitch. However, because that’s not what happened, the triangle has lots of harmonics and overtones, which gives it a distinct sound.

Aside from the triangle itself, a performer also needed a triangle holder. It is a loop from which the instrument is suspended. This holder is a necessity to prevent the player from muting the instrument’s resonance. Sometimes, other triangles come with a stand, but commonly a holder or string loop is used. Interestingly, the triangle percussion instrument can also be heard in samba music, Brazilian traditional music, classical music, as well as in several different musical contexts.

Moreover, the history of this instrument is found way back hundreds and hundreds of years ago. However, the first known reference of the triangle comes from the 10th-century manuscript. Since then, the images of this instrument were found in medieval editions of books and Christian iconography. It was depicted in King Wenceslaus IV Bible of the 14th century, as well as in the 15th-century window of The Collegiate Church of St. Mary in the town of Warwick, England. The latter depiction of the triangle has a mysterious modern appearance, except for the twisted loop in which the thumb of an angel passes. Also, aside from cymbals,  the triangle is one of the instruments that were played by angels in religious images.

A man playing the triangleFrom its religious origins, the instruments also became popular in Brazilian music, such as forro and samba. In addition, it was also often used in Cajun music, and surprisingly, in rock music. In Cajun music, the triangle served as the strong beat, most especially if a drum is not present. Meanwhile, in Brazilian music, the triangle provides a constant pulse and damping tones in each beat in order to let most frequencies sound.

Additionally, it is associated with classical music like in European classical music since around the 18th century. In fact, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Joseph Haydn have used it in their compositions. Also, Franz Liszt has associated the triangle in his Piano Concerto No. 1 as a solo instrument in the third movement.

Like several other percussion instruments, the triangle comes in all different sizes and shapes. However, its standard size is about five inches, although there were also six to seven inches in size. These sizes are said to affect the sound that is produced by the triangle. Larger triangles would often be much louder than those that are small in size. But, larger ones tend to have lower pitches, unlike the smaller triangles.

Furthermore, older versions of the triangle have rings attached to the bottom side of the instrument. These rings functioned like a tambourine when struck. Nevertheless, these versions were not available anymore.

Before playing the triangle, the player will need to attach the triangle holder into either the left or right hand. As the performer is holding the triangle using the holder, he or she can now strike the instrument using the beater. One style that a player can try is what they call the triangle roll, which is quite similar to the snare roll. This is when the player puts the beater inside one of the closed corners and quickly strikes at either side of the instrument.

For a more rhythmic technique, one can also try to unloop the triangle from its holder and place the top corner of the triangle into the player’s index finger. The performer must remember to balance on the finger in order to move the other fingers. The remaining fingers should function to unmute and mute the triangle during the rhythm.