No matter where in the world they originate, any musical instrument that gets beat is considered a percussion instrument, but not every percussion instrument is a drum.
To put that in perspective: the Latin word percussio means to beat or to strike – in a musical sense, not with an implication of violence.
That Latin word is the root of the term percussion and it covers anything that is struck to make a sound.
Some musical instruments, such as the piano and the dulcimer use hammers to beat the strings, which produce the sounds. Yet they are not considered percussion.
In fact, the piano defies standard classification: most accurately, it should be considered as a beaten-string instrument!
Other instruments in the percussion section of any orchestra or band, such as chimes and maracas, are agitated rather than struck by the player – although one can beat a single maraca into one’s palm.
Rain sticks do not get beat at all; the percussionist simply inverts the stick to generate its sound!
In compiling this list of drums, your Superprof considered the overwhelming variety of percussive instruments from around the world and puzzled at how to best present them to you.
by their official Hornbostel-Sachs designation?
those classifications include idiophones, membranophones, and electrophones
by their basic classification: acoustic, electric, and world?
by their region of origin: Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe among them?
by their function: orchestra, band, marching, military…?
by their configuration/size: standard, fusion, electronic, two-headed, single-headed?
By their shape: cylindrical, goblet, hourglass, bowl, box?
By how they’re played – by hand, with a mallet, with sticks, or by striking them against something?
And should we include cymbals in our assessment? They are, after all, essential to a drum kit and make a welcome addition to any orchestra.
Besides, they are some of the oldest musical instruments in the world!
One thing we can say for sure: you don’t need us to break down a common drum kit – the kick drum, the tom-toms, the snare drum…
Let’s go visit the four corners of the world to find all of the traditional, ceremonial and improvisational drums we can!
Note the djembe drums by their goblet shape Source: Pixabay Credit: Kachi
In spite of this being a vast continent whose music is characterised by a strong rhythmic interest, many of the Sub-Saharan languages do not have a word for rhythm or even for music.
Nevertheless, musicologist Arthur Morris Jones, who had travelled extensively throughout Africa from his home base in Zambia, found music across the continent so similar he considered even regional music styles a part of a bigger system found throughout Africa.
The underpinning elements of African drumming consist of syncopation and cross-beats, or polyrhythms, played on such diverse instruments as:
the udu – a ceremonial drum played by women in Nigeria
ngoma: ceremonial drums from Uganda
the slit drum, also called log drum
the djembe: goblet-shaped, it is the most well-known of African drums
Of particular note in the African drum lineup is the talking drum: a two-headed, hourglass-shaped instrument with strings joining the top and bottom heads.
When played correctly, the percussionist would seat the drum under his arm and squeeze the strings while beating the head, causing the tone and pitch to change, mimicking human speech.
This drum type was generally used for communication more so than for making music, at least as we understand music making.
Naturally, each region, language, country and tribe identifies their drums by names unique to their language, and one might find similar drums on one side of the continent as the other.
Furthermore, considering that Africa is the cradle of humankind, it is both reasonable and logical to postulate that, as humans migrated throughout the world, they took their drums with them.
That is why we see similar drums in Asia, South America and even in the Caribbean!
Find out how much you can expect to pay for your drum set…
Now we go from individual tribes in Africa to civilization in China, where drums came into their own.
Did you know that the art of playing the drums is more than 7 thousand years old?
During the latter part of the Stone Age, people living in China were looking for new ways to use alligator skins.
They stretched such a membrane over a hollow, cylindrical device and, presto! The Chinese drum was born.
From China, those instruments travelled all over Asia: to Japan, the Philippines, India and the Middle East.
They also made their way into Australia and southern Europe; that will be our next stop!
Although gongs and cymbals are far more prominent in Asian percussion, there is nevertheless a fine selection of drums found in China: from the small bangu used in Beijing opera to the dagu – a large, wooden drum played with sticks.
The Chinese even have their own hourglass-shaped drum, called the jiegu!
The Indian culture, also very prolific in their drumming – both for religious and secular reasons, boasts a long list of membranophones too.
The tumbaknaer is a goblet-shaped drum played while reciting devotionals, while the tabla consists of a pair of barrel-shaped, single-headed drums, with one a bit bigger than the other. They are played not with drumsticks but with fingers and the palms of the hands.
The Nepalese Madal is a hand drum that resembles the small, cylindrical drum that women play while dancing, in China!
The darbuka is a goblet drum found in the Middle East as well as in eastern Europe.
Although the music culture of Asia is so rich and varied, we only have room to present these few shining examples of drums from that region before moving on!
Discover also the best drum kits for your style of drumming…
China’s massive war drums take energy and force to play! Source: Pixabay Credit: David Ansett
Now we start finding drum names that we are familiar with!
In the 14th century, the snare drum was created. We find concrete evidence of drum sticks – as they are shaped today, around that same time. The timpani, a type of kettle drum, came along shortly after the snare but did not gain popularity until about 200 years later.
The bass drum might have overshadowed the timpani because it was created around the same time.
Perhaps because it was more portable and less likely than the tom tom to drop tune, the bass drum was preferred for use in military bands.
About 400 years after the establishment of the bass drum, the bongos made their appearance onto the European music stage.
By the 1800s, more explorers were venturing out – to Cuba, to Africa, and imported those drums into Europe’s music scene.
A few decades after that, in the early 1900s, drummers could purchase entire drum kits: kick drum and snare, along with their toms and, of course, the cymbals.
In 1976, German Karl Bartos, drummer for the band Kraftwerk, pioneered the electric drums.
The timeline of drumming in Europe leads us to where drumming and drum sets are today!
We may add that Ringo Starr is responsible for the essential drum kit we’re so familiar with these days: a kick drum, one hanging tom, one-floor tom and a snare drum; complemented by hi-hats, a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal!
And how could we end this section on European drumming without mentioning the bodhran, an open-ended frame drum from Ireland?
Find out what else you need to know before buying your first drum set…
Leon Mobley plays his modified cajon. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Gluckstadt
No drum review would be complete without the exotic sounds from Latin America!
The Conga is a single-headed drum native to Cuba but found wherever Latin rhythms are played.
It is usually paired with a smaller drum tuned to a different pitch. Beaten by hand, it has a surprisingly wide range of sounds, depending on where and how it is struck.
The timbale is similar to the conga, played on raised stands. Both of these drums are tunable.
The box drum, or cajon, originated in Peru, the creation of west African slaves held there more than 300 years ago.
They could not find any satisfactory materials to make their drums, so they fashioned them out of the materials they had at hand.
This drum is remarkable in that… it is a box. There are no drum heads; one simply beats the front face or sides – generally made of plywood, to obtain different tones.
You may find cajon players in a jazz ensemble or tapping out a hot rumba beat!
The cajon is unique in that it serves as its own throne: the player sits atop the box, leans backwards at a slight angle and strikes the box’s face.
Traditionally, the cajon player would use his hands; these days, a broader range of sound is achieved by beating it with sticks or mallets, or combed with brushes – as you would a jazz snare.
Another interesting fact of this hand percussion marvel is its association with Ireland’s bodhran: in a folk music pinch, this box drum fits the bill nicely!
Thus we’ve come full circle: from the djembe drum through the standard drum set that you might already own, with a nod to talking drums and paying respects to cymbals.
These drums’ history could be no more diverse, fascinating and colourful, could it?
Don’t you need a complete guide to drum kit maintenance?