The Triangle: Easy to Play or Muito Complicado?

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the triangle
The Triangle (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Eric Hopkins, percussionist for the Utah Symphony, was featured in a recent NPR story about playing the triangle in a classical orchestra. Here are some of his Triangle 101 tips on how to play the triangle when performing Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

Your To-Do List…

  1. Decide what beaters to use. Stainless steel or the more malleable brass? Heavy or light, and to what degree?
  2. Decide where on the triangle you want to hit, depending on the desired timbre. Dark sound or light sound?
  3. Vibrato or no vibrato?
  4. Now practice along with your favorite recording, then with five others. Do your sounds blend with the orchestra in context, or do you need to make adjustments?
  5. Practice hitting the triangle three times in a row and getting the same sound. Good luck!
  6. Don’t forget to start practicing for next week’s triangle repertoire.
  7. Don’t mess up!

This all seems pretty complicated. Funny fact: the triangle has no other name and was named merely for its shape. I prefer the triangle in Brazilian music, especially the forró style from Pernambuco, Northeast Brazil. In this regional music the triangle is almost always present. Several Brazilian musicians have told me that the triangle’s omnipresence in this music may have resulted from there being a surplus of scrap metal around from the British and Americans, who built the railways. Meanwhile in America, the triangle has been used mostly in western movies to call people to dinner.

Here is the triangle featured in a symphony orchestra.

Here it is used in the Brazilian forró style: