An Introduction to Triangles
Here at Music Elements, we’re all about finding the best fit for our customers and their needs. Sometimes, though, the tyranny of choice makes things unnecessarily difficult for our customers to pick up the correct gear for their needs. Fret not – we’re here to help!
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the humble triangle. This deceptively-simple staple of the percussion section frequently finds itself in the centre of purchasing scrutiny – why in the world do some triangles cost upwards of $300, when some other models cost just around $30?! In this post, we break down some of the key considerations in choosing the perfect triangle for you and/or your ensemble.
Before delving into the details, however, it is important to first identify some caveats:
- This guide is not a replacement for your ears: In the age of information, customers too often rely too heavily on reading and hearsay to make their purchasing decisions. We do not recommend this. We find that our happiest customers are those who come into our store to try our products for themselves, and customers in the market for a triangle are no different! Just like how health and wellbeing websites should not be taken as an acceptable alternative to a doctor’s opinion, so too should you exercise due caution in making the best purchase you can. Irrespective of your use case, your triangle must serve your Period.
- There is no one best triangle, nor one best algorithm for triangle buying: This is a common one that stretches across all instruments. This article covers some general rules that can help alleviate your decision paralysis that are true in most circumstances. However, there will always be exceptions to the norm. If, say, you’re picking up a triangle for a Latin jazz set in a club, there typically isn’t a need to spend upwards of $300 on a cutting-edge, top-of-the-line bronze hammered triangle. Likewise, you’re probably remiss to pick up a 4”, dainty piece for your DCI-style pit percussion gig. Can you? Certainly. Shouldyou? That’s a different story.
The first and foremost (and perhaps, most obvious) difference between triangles is their size. Triangles typically range between 4” to 10”, and the sizes most suitable for concert percussion use tend to fall within the 6” – 9” range.
All other factors (e.g., material, manufacturing technique) remaining the same, larger triangles produce lower pitches. Here’s a demonstration video from Grover Pro Percussion showing the differences in sound between the 5”, 6”, and 9” Super Overtone Triangles.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Larger triangles have more surface areas, which make larger models slightly easier to get a pleasant sound out of. In my personal experience, this means more margin for error, which is nice for an amateur such as myself. The trade-off, however, is that larger triangles tend to be (1) heavier, and consequently (2) harder to control. Because of this, a quick and dirty rule of thumb is to match the size of the triangle to the dynamic range required of the instrument. Playing a 10” behemoth in a light waltz, for example, is neither impossible nor some sort of cardinal sin – it just means that much more control of the instrument is required to get the job done.
Triangles are typically made either of stainless steel or bronze.
Sonically, steel triangles produce a bright and pure sound that tend to be the most versatile across musical applications. As such, they tend to be the common choice for general use triangles. While the most common (and cheapest) stainless steel triangles feature a shiny chrome plating, some premium stainless steel models are manufactured with special coatings to give the player a fuller stainless steel sound with more audible, complex overtones. True to form, we find that the Grover Pro Percussion Super Overtone Triangles to be amongst our best sellers for professionals and school bands alike. They last a lifetime
Bronze triangles, on the other hand, stretch across a broad spectrum of sound. Bronze triangles at the budget range are well-suited for small ensembles due to their lighter sound, but bronze triangles that have been treated by such means as hammering or heat treating err towards a complex, expressive sound with long and colourful overtones. The distinction between the Grover Pro Percussion Bronze Hammered Lite and Bronze Pro Hammered triangles are a good case in point.
As with other instruments, nuance is important. That is, it is not accurate to say that stainless steel triangles are inferior to bronze triangles, or that bronze triangles are always overkill. Premium stainless steel triangles are the industry standard around the world in ensemble or personal collections, while bronze triangles have found themselves snatching the spotlight in cases where players or conductors want just that extra pizzazz.
Ah, the unsung heroes of triangle sound. A triangle is nothing without a beater, and one would be remiss to attempt Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 without a reliable, reverberant triangle clip.
Just like the rest of percussion playing, beaters (or, more generally, mallets) define a large portion of a player’s sound. One is always best-served to have a set of beaters with a variety of sizes. On top of that, one may be minded to also own beaters in pairs, as more advanced passages may require both hands to play. Triangle beaters serve some core purposes. This excerpt from AMRO Music’s blog summarises it well:
- To enhance the complexity of a triangle’s sound,
- To eliminate the metal-on-metal contact sound as much as possible, and
- To provide a lightweight, comfortable implement with which to perform at all dynamic levels.
Again, triangle beaters come in varying shapes, sizes, materials, and of course, price points. Brass beaters tend to be the gold standard, producing sweet and rich sounds on the triangle. This is not to scoff at steel alloy beaters, however, which provide full sounds at a friendlier price point.
A close second to the triangle beater in the list of important triangle accessories is the humble triangle clip. Is it any surprise anymore that triangle clips, too, come at varying sizes, materials, and price points? I feel like a broken record here!
A good triangle clip is ergonomic for handheld playing situations, while allowing itself to be easily mounted for two-handed playing situations. The pièce de résistance of triangle clips, though, is the loop on which the triangle rests. Generally, you’d want your triangle clip to:
- Be strung with a light, durable, and thin material that does not hinder the resonance of the triangle, allowing the instrument to produce maximum overtone resonance freely,
- Feature a small enough loop so that it does not swing or rotate when the triangle is struck,
- Provide a comfortable way to mount or hold your triangle without sacrificing clear access to all playing areas of the triangle, and
- Have a method of being quickly, reliably, and securely attached to another surface (e.g., a music stand).
We are not joking when we say that a player’s choice of triangle clips can, and will, make audible differences to their triangle sound. An inexpensive, reliable option that our customers love is the Grover Pro Percussion Pro Triangle Clip.
After all that is said and done, we cannot stress this enough: The best triangle is what will suit your playing needs best. There is absolutely no shame in bringing a $20 ‘toy’ to the symphony if it gets the job done, just as you may find yourself best-served by bringing out your trusty $300 bronze hammered triangle for an intimate, acoustic session.
We understand that such decisions are very difficult to make. Feel free to set up an appointment with our percussion specialists to talk more about your triangle needs, and we shall be happy to hook you up with the best ‘dings’!