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Superprof Facts About Drums

By Sonia, published on 03/07/2018 Blog > Music > Drums > Facts About Drums

Percussion instruments come in a great number of variations. In this post, we’re going to have a look at the different kinds of drums mostly found in drum kits and the best songs for practising your drumming.

History of Drums

The first percussion instruments were probably clappers, two sticks struck together. Very likely the first drums date to the Stone Age, though organic material from that period has rarely survived. However, with the emergence of the first great civilisations in Mesopotamia and Egypt, we have documents in the form of depictions and even a few originals. They had a type of frame drum, hand drums and two-headed drums in various sizes.

Apart from tambourines and other frame drums (and various forms of crotales, or primitive cymbals) Ancient Greece and Rome did not contribute much to the history of percussion.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

The Middle Ages represented a boom in musical instruments, in part due to an influx of new instruments from the Islamic world, brought back from crusaders. This includes hand drums, kettle drums, and the precursors of both the snare and bass drums. The drum head was made of skin stretched over a wooden frame and tensioned with cords.

First concert drums

In the modern period, instruments slowly coalesced into the forms we know today. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the development of a great number of military drums as well as stationary drums for full and chamber orchestras, such as the timpani.

With the rising interest in popular entertainment such as concert halls, and, in the 20th century, of music genres with a small instrument set, drumming became the responsibility of only one musician, who was expected to play several kinds of drums, sometimes simultaneously. The development of the drum pedal paved the way for the modern drum set, making it possible to play the bass drum and also the cymbals with the foot.

African Drums

Africa has given birth to a wonderful variety of different membranophones, from kettle drums to cylinder drums to friction drums.
But the most well-known drums from Africa are the Djembe from West Africa, which features in many modern music styles. Tradition has it that the Djembe drum was invented by a blacksmith caste during the time of the Mali Empire. In some parts of West Africa, playing the Djembe drums is restricted to certain families.

African Djembe drums are hourglass-shaped. Djembe drums are among the best-known African drum types. Photo on VisualHunt

Another interesting and typical type of West African drum is the talking drum. The drum sound imitates the tonalities of human speech, and talking drums were also used to communicate between villages. There was a whole elaborate language and syntax for talking with drums.

Read more about the history of drums.

Parts of a Drum Kit

A modern drum kit varies slightly depending on what music is being played. This mostly concerns the materials out of which the drums are made (maple, bamboo, steel drums) and the size and arrangement of toms and cymbals.

Very often, the backbeat is played on the snares and the first and third beats on the bass drum. Toms are used for drum rolls and snares and cymbals for fills – though the innovative use of drums is what makes a good drummer stand out.

Every drum set includes a drum throne, a special seat or stool giving you good access to every element of your drum circle:

  • A kick drum (another name for a bass drum when it is hit with a drum pedal)
  • One snare drum
  • One to three tom-toms, more if the band is successful and you can customize your set; one of these can be a floor tom
  • A hi-hat cymbal
  • A crash cymbal or ride cymbal
  • Any other effect cymbals such as China cymbals

Of course, you’ll also need accessories for striking the drums: drumsticks, mallets (usually covered in felt), brushes, rutes…

Drum kits can be personalised. You can expand your drum kit as much as you want – but the basic set has five drums. Photo credit: jochenWolters on VisualHunt

Other Accessories

Apart from a music stand to hold the sheets of drumming music, you might want to invest in a metronome. In drumming, getting the rhythm and beat perfect is very important.

Different Drums in a Drum Kit

Generally, basic drum sets have three types of drums: bass, snare and tom. Let’s have a look at what’s behind this configuration:

Bass drums

Bass drums evolved from the Turkish davul, a two-headed cylindrical drum beaten by two different sticks. It slowly seeped into European music, both military and civilian, in the wake of a craze for all things Turkish. When the sticks were replaced with a padded mallet, it started being used for orchestra pieces.

Its main characteristic is that its diameter is greater than its depth. Concert drums are somewhat larger than band drums.

As concert hall music became more popular, and music requiring a small ensemble that didn’t want to pay more than one drummer grew popular with styles such as jazz or ragtime, the bass drum was set on its side and beaten with a pedal – hence its second designation, “kick drum”.

It is now a staple of every drum set; some musicians even favour double bass drums. In marching bands, there will generally be several bass drums, each tuned to a different pitch. They are often used for the main rhythm or melody.

Snare drums

The ancestor of snare drums, the tabor, was a small drum with two skins, hung from a shoulder that could be played one-handed to accompany a small three-hole flute. The drum had ropes strung under the drumhead.

It grew larger with time, though it continued to be associated with the flute or fife as a military instrument.

Snare drums are common in drum kits. A snare drum is an integral part of a modern drum kit. Photo credit: J Jackson Foto on VisualHunt

The modern snare has snare-wires under the upper drumhead, with shells made of wood or metal. The skin is generally Mylar.

They are generally used for backbeat, drumrolls and rimshots.

Tom-Toms

Tom-Toms might at first glance look a lot like snare drums, but they are taller and don’t have snare wires. They come in a variety of sizes and pitches and are often used for drum fills. It’s possible to tune a tom drum with a hoop and tuning lugs. The different styles – jazz, rock, or fusion – all use a different combination of toms for their drum kits. Some use hanging toms set up on a stand, while others also incorporate a floor tom.

Cymbals

Most drum sets have several types of cymbals:

  • A hi-hat, a double cymbal hanging horizontally from a stand, with a mobile lower cymbal.
  • A crash cymbal for loud emphasis crashes
  • A ride cymbal for beats and accents within the rhythm
  • Effects cymbals like China cymbals

Easy Drum Songs for Beginners

For a beginner percussionist, it can be a little boring to do nothing but drumming exercises. After all, you decided to study the drum in order to jam with the great drummers and beat to all the cool songs.

Of course, most of the interesting songs you would like to play are way above your skill level. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any songs you can drum along to as a beginner!

Here are a few easy drum songs to learn:

  • “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles
  • “Hallowed be Thy Name” by Iron Maiden
  • “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead
  • “Gimme All Your Lovin’ ” by ZZ Top
  • “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
  • “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest
  • “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
  • “Only” by Nin
  • “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen

You can find many songs as a play-along drum track or even a backing track without the drum.

Speed is important is certain types of metal. Some drummers are so fast you can barely see them… Photo credit: Bernal Saborio G. (berkuspic) on VisualHunt

Famous Drummers

There are many aspects that can contribute to making a good drummer. Some of them enthuse by their sheer energy, others have an unbeatable technique with a drumstick, an amazing speed, unbeatable precision, or distinctive fills.

Here is a list of the top ten most famous drummers of jazz or rock:

  • Tony Williams
  • Art Blakey
  • Max Roach
  • Jack DeJohnette
  • Keith Moon
  • Dave Grohl
  • Phil Collins
  • Ginger Baker
  • Bobbye Hall
  • Janet Weiss
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