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Drum of Company B, 40th New York Infantry Regiment, at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 DrumMozartRegiment.jpg
Drum of Company B, 40th New York Infantry Regiment, at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
Talking drum TalkingDrum.jpg
Talking drum
A drum kit Jazz drummer.jpg
A drum kit
A Dong Son drum from 3rd to 2nd century BC Ceremonial drum.jpg
A Đông Sơn drum from 3rd to 2nd century BC
A pair of conga drums Congas.JPG
A pair of conga drums

The drum is a member of the percussion group of musical instruments. In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, it is a membranophone. [1] Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player's hands, or with a percussion mallet, to produce sound. There is usually a resonant head on the underside of the drum. Other techniques have been used to cause drums to make sound, such as the thumb roll. Drums are the world's oldest and most ubiquitous musical instruments, and the basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. [1]


Drums may be played individually, with the player using a single drum, and some drums such as the djembe are almost always played in this way. Others are normally played in a set of two or more, all played by one player, such as bongo drums and timpani. A number of different drums together with cymbals form the basic modern drum kit.


Drums are usually played by striking with the hand, a beater attached to a pedal, or with one or two sticks with or without padding. A wide variety of sticks are used, including wooden sticks and sticks with soft beaters of felt on the end. In jazz, some drummers use brushes for a smoother, quieter sound. In many traditional cultures, drums have a symbolic function and are used in religious ceremonies. Drums are often used in music therapy, especially hand drums, because of their tactile nature and easy use by a wide variety of people. [2] In the 2000s, drums have also been used as a way to engage in aerobic exercise and is called cardio drumming. [3] [4]

In popular music and jazz, "drums" usually refers to a drum kit or a set of drums (with some cymbals, or in the case of harder rock music genres, many cymbals), and "drummer" to the person who plays them.

Drums acquired even divine status in places such as Burundi, where the karyenda was a symbol of the power of the king.


The shell almost always has a circular opening over which the drumhead is stretched, but the shape of the remainder of the shell varies widely. In the Western musical tradition, the most usual shape is a cylinder, although timpani, for example, use bowl-shaped shells. [1] Other shapes include a frame design (tar, Bodhrán), truncated cones (bongo drums, Ashiko), goblet shaped (djembe), and joined truncated cones (talking drum).

A drum contains cylindrical shells can be open at one end (as is the case with timbales), or can have two drum heads, one head on each end. Single-headed drums typically consist of a skin stretched over an enclosed space, or over one of the ends of a hollow vessel. Drums with two heads covering both ends of a cylindrical shell often have a small hole somewhat halfway between the two heads; the shell forms a resonating chamber for the resulting sound. Exceptions include the African slit drum, also known as a log drum as it is made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, and the Caribbean steel drum, made from a metal barrel. Drums with two heads can also have a set of wires, called snares, held across the bottom head, top head, or both heads, hence the name snare drum. [1] On some drums with two heads, a hole or bass reflex port may be cut or installed onto one head, as with some 2010s era bass drums in rock music.

On modern band and orchestral drums, the drumhead is placed over the opening of the drum, which in turn is held onto the shell by a "counterhoop" (or "rim"), which is then held by means of a number of tuning screws called "tension rods" that screw into lugs placed evenly around the circumference. The head's tension can be adjusted by loosening or tightening the rods. Many such drums have six to ten tension rods. The sound of a drum depends on many variables—including shape, shell size and thickness, shell materials, counterhoop material, drumhead material, drumhead tension, drum position, location, and striking velocity and angle. [1]

Prior to the invention of tension rods, drum skins were attached and tuned by rope systems—as on the Djembe—or pegs and ropes such as on Ewe drums. These methods are rarely used today, though sometimes appear on regimental marching band snare drums. [1] The head of a talking drum, for example, can be temporarily tightened by squeezing the ropes that connect the top and bottom heads. Similarly, the tabla is tuned by hammering a disc held in place around the drum by ropes stretching from the top to bottom head. Orchestral timpani can be quickly tuned to precise pitches by using a foot pedal.


Several American Indian-style drums for sale at the National Museum of the American Indian Drums for sale at the National Museum of the American Indian.jpg
Several American Indian-style drums for sale at the National Museum of the American Indian

Several factors determine the sound a drum produces, including the type, shape and construction of the drum shell, the type of drum heads it has, and the tension of these drumheads. Different drum sounds have different uses in music. For example, the modern Tom-tom drum. A jazz drummer may want drums that are high pitched, resonant and quiet whereas a rock drummer may prefer drums that are loud, dry and low-pitched.

The drum head has the most effect on how a drum sounds. Each type of drum head serves its own musical purpose and has its own unique sound. Double-ply drumheads dampen high frequency harmonics because they are heavier and they are suited to heavy playing. [5] Drum heads with a white, textured coating on them muffle the overtones of the drum head slightly, producing a less diverse pitch. Drum heads with central silver or black dots tend to muffle the overtones even more, while drum heads with perimeter sound rings mostly eliminate overtones. Some jazz drummers avoid using thick drum heads, preferring single ply drum heads or drum heads with no muffling. Rock drummers often prefer the thicker or coated drum heads.

The second biggest factor that affects drum sound is head tension against the shell. When the hoop is placed around the drum head and shell and tightened down with tension rods, the tension of the head can be adjusted. When the tension is increased, the amplitude of the sound is reduced and the frequency is increased, making the pitch higher and the volume lower.

The type of shell also affects the sound of a drum. Because the vibrations resonate in the shell of the drum, the shell can be used to increase the volume and to manipulate the type of sound produced. The larger the diameter of the shell, the lower the pitch. The larger the depth of the drum, the louder the volume. Shell thickness also determines the volume of drums. Thicker shells produce louder drums. Mahogany raises the frequency of low pitches and keeps higher frequencies at about the same speed. When choosing a set of shells, a jazz drummer may want smaller maple shells, while a rock drummer may want larger birch shells.


Moche ceramic vessel depicting a drummer. Larco Museum Collection. Lima-Peru MocheDrum.jpg
Moche ceramic vessel depicting a drummer. Larco Museum Collection. Lima-Peru

Drums made with alligator skins have been found in Neolithic cultures located in China, dating to a period of 5500–2350 BC. In literary records, drums manifested shamanistic characteristics and were often used in ritual ceremonies. [6]

The bronze Dong Son drum was fabricated by the Bronze Age Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam. They include the ornate Ngoc Lu drum.

Animal drumming

Macaque monkeys drum objects in a rhythmic way to show social dominance and this has been shown to be processed in a similar way in their brains to vocalizations, suggesting an evolutionary origin to drumming as part of social communication. [7] Other primates including gorillas make drumming sounds by chest beating or hand clapping, [8] [9] and rodents such as kangaroo rats also make similar sounds using their paws on the ground. [10]

Talking drums

Drums are used not only for their musical qualities, but also as a means of communication over great distances. The talking drums of Africa are used to imitate the tone patterns of spoken language. Throughout Sri Lankan history drums have been used for communication between the state and the community, and Sri Lankan drums have a history stretching back over 2500 years.

Drums in art

A well-used African drum COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Bekertrom van hout TMnr 4851-5.jpg
A well-used African drum

Drumming may be a purposeful expression of emotion for entertainment, spiritualism and communication. Many cultures practice drumming as a spiritual or religious passage and interpret drummed rhythm similarly to spoken language or prayer. Drumming has developed over millennia to be a powerful art form. Drumming is commonly viewed as the root of music and is sometimes performed as a kinesthetic dance. As a discipline, drumming concentrates on training the body to punctuate, convey and interpret musical rhythmic intention to an audience and to the performer.

Military uses


Handscroll detail of a Chinese percussionist playing a drum for a dancing woman, from a 12th-century remake of Gu Hongzhong's 10th-century originals, Song dynasty. Gu Hongzhong's Night Revels, Detail 6.jpg
Handscroll detail of a Chinese percussionist playing a drum for a dancing woman, from a 12th-century remake of Gu Hongzhong's 10th-century originals, Song dynasty.
Pedro de Alcantara, Prince Imperial (later Emperor Pedro II of Brazil) with a toy drum, c. 1830 Dompedroiibebe.jpg
Pedro de Alcântara, Prince Imperial (later Emperor Pedro II of Brazil) with a toy drum, c. 1830

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drum kit</span> Musical instrument

A drum kit is a collection of drums, cymbals, and sometimes other auxiliary percussion instruments set up to be played by one person. The drummer typically holds a pair of matching drumsticks, and uses their feet to operate hi-hat and bass drum pedals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Percussion instrument</span> Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater including attached or enclosed beaters or rattles struck, scraped or rubbed by hand or struck against another similar instrument. Excluding zoomusicological instruments and the human voice, the percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments. In spite of being a very common term to designate instruments, and to relate them to their players, the percussionists, percussion is not a systematic classificatory category of instruments, as described by the scientific field of organology. It is shown below that percussion instruments may belong to the organological classes of idiophone, membranophone, aerophone and chordophone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Snare drum</span> Type of percussion instrument

The snare drum is a percussion instrument that produces a sharp staccato sound when the head is struck with a drum stick, due to the use of a series of stiff wires held under tension against the lower skin. Snare drums are often used in orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, parades, drumlines, drum corps, and more. It is one of the central pieces in a drum set, a collection of percussion instruments designed to be played by a seated drummer and used in many genres of music. Because basic rhythms are very easy to learn to play on a snare drum even for children, the instrument is also suitable for the music education for young children and a rhythm band.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass drum</span> Drum that produces a low or indefinite pitch

The bass drum is a large drum that produces a note of low definite or indefinite pitch. The instrument is typically cylindrical, with the drum's diameter much greater than the drum's depth, with a struck head at both ends of the cylinder. The heads may be made of calfskin or plastic and there is normally a means of adjusting the tension either by threaded taps or by strings. Bass drums are built in a variety of sizes, but size does not dictate the volume produced by the drum. The pitch and the sound can vary much with different sizes, but the size is also chosen based on convenience and aesthetics. Bass drums are percussion instruments and vary in size and are used in several musical genres. Three major types of bass drums can be distinguished.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timpani</span> Pitched percussion instrument

Timpani or kettledrums are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum categorised as a hemispherical drum, they consist of a membrane called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. Thus timpani are an example of kettle drums, also known as vessel drums and semispherical drums, whose body is similar to a section of a sphere whose cut conforms the head. Most modern timpani are pedal timpani and can be tuned quickly and accurately to specific pitches by skilled players through the use of a movable foot-pedal. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet. Timpani evolved from military drums to become a staple of the classical orchestra by the last third of the 18th century. Today, they are used in many types of ensembles, including concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, and even in some rock bands.

A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane. It is one of the four main divisions of instruments in the original Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drumhead</span> Membrane stretched over the ends of a drum

A drumhead or drum skin is a membrane stretched over one or both of the open ends of a drum. The drumhead is struck with sticks, mallets, or hands, so that it vibrates and the sound resonates through the drum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Djembe</span> Type of African goblet drum

A djembe or jembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa. According to the Bambara people in Mali, the name of the djembe comes from the saying "Anke djé, anke bé" which translates to "everyone gather together in peace" and defines the drum's purpose. In the Bambara language, "djé" is the verb for "gather" and "bé" translates as "peace."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conga</span> Cuban drum

The conga, also known as tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba. Congas are staved like barrels and classified into three types: quinto, tres dos or tres golpes (middle), and tumba or salidor (lowest). Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum. Following numerous innovations in conga drumming and construction during the mid-20th century, as well as its internationalization, it became increasingly common for drummers to play two or three drums. Congas have become a popular instrument in many forms of Latin music such as son, descarga, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, songo, merengue and Latin rock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Percussion mallet</span> Object used to strike or beat a percussion instrument

A percussion mallet or beater is an object used to strike or beat a percussion instrument in order to produce its sound.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rototom</span> Type of drum

The rototom is a shell-less drum developed by Al Payson and Michael Colgrass that is able to change pitch by rotating its drumhead around a threaded metal ring. Unlike many types of drums, rototoms are designed to have a variable definite pitch leading composers to write specific notes for them as pitched percussion instruments. They are also often used to extend the tom range of a standard drum kit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marching percussion</span> Percussion instruments in a drumline

Marching percussion instruments are percussion instruments specially designed to be played while moving. This is achieved by attaching the drum(s) to a special harness worn by the drummer, although not all marching bands use such harnesses and instead use traditional baldrics to sling their drums.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Davul</span> Musical instrument

The davul, dhol, tapan, atabal or tabl is a large double-headed drum that is played with mallets. It has many names depending on the country and region. These drums are commonly used in the music of the Middle East and the Balkans. These drums have both a deep bass sound and a thin treble sound due to their construction and playing style, where different heads and sticks are used to produce different sounds on the same drum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Practice pad</span> Percussion tool used for practice

A practice pad or drum pad, is a piece of equipment used by drummers and other percussionists to practice quietly, or to warm up before a performance.

A tenor drum is a membranophone without a snare. There are several types of tenor drums.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music of West Africa</span>

The music of West Africa has a significant history, and its varied sounds reflect the wide range of influences from the area's regions and historical periods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Remo</span> American musical instrument company

Remo Inc. is an American musical instruments manufacturing company based in Valencia, California, and founded by Remo Belli in 1957. Products manufactured include drum kits, drumheads, drums, and hardware, and various percussion instruments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drum hardware</span>

Drum hardware is the set of parts of a drum or drum kit that are used to tension, position, and otherwise support the instruments themselves.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tom drum</span> Cylindrical drum

A tom drum is a cylindrical drum with no snares, named from the Anglo-Indian and Sinhala language. It was added to the drum kit in the early part of the 20th century. Most toms range in size between 6 and 20 inches in diameter, though floor toms can go as large as 24 inches (61 cm).

Drum tuning is the process of adjusting the frequency or pitch of a drum. Although most drums are unpitched instruments, they still have a fundamental pitch and overtones. Drums require tuning for a variety of reasons: to sound good together as a kit, to sound pleasing as an individual drum, to achieve the desired amount of ringing and resonance, and to produce the sound that fits the music. Some drums such as timpani and rototoms are tuned to a definite pitch. Drums are tuned by tightening or loosening the tension rods or ropes, which control the tension on the drumhead. Additional techniques such as muffling may also be used to affect resonance.


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