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Types of Drums: The Pulse of Rhythm and Music


October 29 2023

Music Industry

Types of Drums: The Pulse of Rhythm and Music


October 29 2023

We’ve explored the origin of music, as well as different types of instruments, their histories, and variations (all the way to the different types of violins). And now? It’s time to venture into the world of drums. 

Drums are the rhythmic heartbeat of the music and come in their fair share of shapes, sizes, and sounds. The drum world is vast and varied, with instruments ranging from the low-end rumble of bass drums to the high-end intricacies of tenor drums. In this article, we'll dive into the history of drums, the variety of drum types, and their vital role in different musical genres.

A Brief History of Drums

The earliest record of a drum (dating back to 5500 - 2350 BC) was found in China and made with alligator skins. According to historical accounts, drums frequently played a significant role in shamanic rites and were played in ritual ceremonies.

Drumming has been used for many purposes throughout history, within nature, and across cultures. The ape and macaque species' use of drumming as a means of dominance and communication demonstrates the drum's evolutionary significance. Across Africa, people may communicate across long distances by beating on drums that replicate the tones of spoken languages.

Ancient Chinese and Aztec combat practices both feature the use of drums to inspire soldiers, communicate strategy, and even change the course of a fight. The Rig Veda and other ancient texts mention the spiritual significance of war drums, representing both victory and defeat.

The Tenor Drum: Precision and Complexity

The tenor drum is a versatile percussion instrument typically featured in marching bands and drum corps. It’s known for its distinctive sound and is often played on a set of six or more drums, each producing a different pitch. 

While originally designed to provide rhythmic support in military formations, the tenor drum has evolved into a complex instrument that requires skillful manipulation of drumsticks. These drums add depth and complexity to marching band performances, where precision and timing are paramount. 

The Bass Drum: The Foundation of Rhythm

The bass drum is a percussion instrument known for its low-pitched, often deep sound. This type boasts a cylindrical shape with heads at both ends, which can be made of calfskin or plastic and are adjustable for tension. Bass drums come in different sizes, which offer varying pitches and tonal qualities. The three primary types of bass drums are:

1. Orchestral or concert bass drums

2. Kickdrums 

3. Pitched bass drums

In music, bass drums serve multiple roles, from marking time and tempo in marches to providing foundational beats in rock and roll. They can even assume a melodic role in jazz, enhancing musical dynamics within a drum set.

The Tanggu: The Resonance of Tradition

The tanggu (which translates to "ceremonial hall drum") is a cylindrical drum of medium size that is used in traditional Chinese music. It has a deep and commanding sound, making it a central component in traditional Chinese music ensembles. The tanggu's cultural significance and ability to provoke strong emotions are demonstrated by the drum's thunderous beats, which lend a feeling of grandeur and dignity to ceremonial and cultural occasions.

The Xiao Tanggu and the Da Tanggu are the two varieties, with the Xiao Tanggu being smaller - meaning it produces a higher pitch sound.

The Bodhran: The Celtic Heartbeat

Continuing on our universal tour of the drums, we encounter the bodhran, a traditional Irish drum that embodies the essence of Celtic music. Crafted from a wooden frame and a goatskin head, the bodhran produces a warm and earthy sound.  The tipper, a specialized drumstick, is typically used to play this instrument, a crucial part of Irish folk music. The bodhran's rhythmic patterns and primal beats connect listeners to the heart and soul of Ireland's musical heritage.

New techniques for crafting this instrument were introduced in 1975 to combat damp weather conditions, which were affecting the sound of the instrument, and have since gained  widespread adoption.

The Importance of Drums Across Genres

As we said, as the rhythmic heartbeat of music, drums shape the character and emotion of various musical genres. In rock and pop, the bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals propel the intensity of a song, while jazz drumming has been made an art form thanks to drummers like Buddy Rich and Max Roach pushing the boundaries of rhythm and improvisation.

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) relies on infectious beats and pulsating rhythms to stir a crowd, and drums and percussions are essential in creating an enticing dancefloor experience. EDM producers frequently modify drum sounds and patterns to create unique compositions.

DJ Snake is an example of a musician who integrates drum patterns into his hit songs. Known to blur the lines between EDM and other genres - such as trap, pop, and dubstep - for his hit songs, the artist combines electronic beats with rhythmic elements inspired by hip-hop and world music. 

His innovative drum and percussion work has earned him global acclaim, making him a prominent figure in the EDM scene. His performance at MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm 2022 captivated audiences with his vibrant energy and passion. Prolific musicians like him continue to explore the limitless possibilities of drums, pushing the boundaries of creativity, sound, and instrumental application.

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