Can anyone tell me what this thing is?

Hello composers,

Can anyone tell me what kind of percussion instrument this is? The first example is an excerpt of the score from the movie Signs, written by James Newton Howard. This instrument in question plays right on the very first beat of the song, it sounds like a crack, a sort of snap. It then comes back in at 3:49 and plays at the same time as the bass drum. Then also, what is the percussion instrument that plays at 0:32 in this song called Straw Man, it's the one panned all the way to the right, and also sounds kind of like a snap, and is it the same thing as what's in the Signs excerpt?

I have been stumped by what this instrument is for a long time, and I hear it in all kinds of orchestral scores and stuff. The reason I ask now is because the piece, Straw Man, was created using East West Gold orchestra, which I have just now installed, and I would like to be able to use whatever this percussion instrument is. Thanks a ton!



The Hand of Fate.mp3

Straw Man.mp3

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  • I can't listen right now but a snapping sound in the far right sounds like basses playing col legno.
  • It could be one of hundreds of things.  Percussion instruments have many different variables that will effect the sound produced.  The material it's made out of, even more specific from that, the type of material that material is, wood for example, slapsticks made out of oak will sound much crisper and solid than slapsticks made out of spruce.

    The way the instrument is played can create a huge range of sounds, the point at which you strike the instrument too can effect the sound.  Even the way the instrument is recorded will effect it, mic placement, and mic type will all make a huge difference.

    To my ears, it could possibly be a slapstick.  That's typically what you would use in you want to mimic the snapping of a whip, for example Leroy Andersons' Sleigh Ride.  But you could replicate that sound many different ways.  Just now I held out a piece of paper and slapped it with a pen i had laying around.  With the right mic placement, I think that would sound very much like the examples you've posted.


    I suggest you experiment around with things.  If you're working in a DAW and have the right equipment you could always record your own sample and throw that in there.  Good luck in your endeavors!

  • Something from Double Basses -> CBS FX plus a drum (timpani maybe?) should do the trick in The Hand of Fate. I don't know whether your Play edition has the same patches as my Kontakt one, but I suppose it does :)

    The one in Straw Man sounds similar (Cbs Slaps would work even better), minus the drum of course.

  • Wow thanks you guys, you were right, it is the Cbs slaps! I've been wondering what that sound is for so long, now I finally have a library that has it and can use it. Thanks so much!
  • John I finally heard the tracks. While Bartok pizz and slaps are great effects, here the basses are most definitely playing 'col legno' (an Italian phrase literally meaning 'with the wood' - and a contraction of 'con il legno' for those who are interested). This is a technique where the players reverse their bows and hit the strings with the wooden part of the bow. Generally the players like to know in advance so that they can bring in cheaper bows to get damaged. Also in film cues col legno parts are often overdubbed so that they can mixed louder.


    There are several giveaway sounds in the cue which convince me that these are col legno effects you're hearing.


    The col legno samples in the East West Gold collection are great and I use them in my template to this day.

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