Along with the timpani and the bass drum the tam-tam provides the bass in the percussion group.
The tam-tam is often confused with the gong, but there are a number of significant differences between the construction and sound of the two instruments: the tam-tam is a relatively flat disc and, unlike the gong, has no knob in the center. Apart from this it has no definite pitch, although the pitch of different sized tam-tams does vary, of course.
In western-style symphony orchestras the tam-tam has only been in use since the end of the 18th century. In the 19th century Romantic composers used the tam-tam more and more frequently, so that it became established as an orchestra instrument at the turn of the 20th century. In music of very recent times it has even been used as a solo instrument.
The tam-tam is struck with a variety of mallets, and depending on the mallet and the playing technique has a timbre ranging from dark to screeching to majestic.
Percussion instrument, idiophone with indefinite pitch, percussion vessel
Approx. 35–170 cm
Approx. 0.5–50 kg
Bronze, sheet bronze
Cast (bronze) or hammered (sheet bronze)
From which one or more tam-tams are hung