Everything about the World’s oldest instrument: The Drums

Marco B Divaio

Over the past seven thousand years and above, the entire mankind civilization has witnessed drastic changes. From pre-historic times to the modern-age civilization, humans have embraced the changes with open arms that have enabled them to become what they are today. These particular changes aren’t just restricted to the development […]

Over the past seven thousand years and above, the entire mankind civilization has witnessed drastic changes. From pre-historic times to the modern-age civilization, humans have embraced the changes with open arms that have enabled them to become what they are today.

These particular changes aren’t just restricted to the development of the community but also the tools that have pushed the advancement procedure. Humans have also developed multiple musical instruments of which there is one specific musical instrument that represents the very first of this invention process, The Drums.

No matter where you stay or where you are born, drums are present everywhere. From being played in military ceremonies to various religious ceremonies, drums have effectively shaped the modern life culture. Drums are a crucial instrumental tool and play a rhythmic part in almost every musical genre. Since their inception, drums have involved a wide spectrum of musical styles, making them an invincible inclusion in any musical journey.

What is a Drum?

The drum is a member of the Percussion group of musical tools. Drums comprise of at least one membrane which is called a drum skin or drumhead that is stretched over a struck and shell, either directly with the hands of the players or with the help of a percussion mallet to produce the necessary sound.

On the underside of the drum, there is usually a resonance head that is typically tuned to a slightly lower pitch than the top drumhead. Other techniques have been used to cause the drums to make sound, such as the thumb roll.

It is said that drums are the worlds’ oldest and also the most ubiquitous musical instruments that have existed on the planet from Pre-historic times. Moreover, the basic design of a drum has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

How are Drums played?

Drums could be played either individually or with the player using a single drum. Some drums such as the Djembe are almost always played in a similar pattern. On the other hand, other drums could be played in a set of two or more, where all the parts are played by that one player such as the timpani and bongo drums. A drum kit is formed by several various drums together with cymbals.

Uses of Drums

Drums have a wide range of use is usually played by striking them with one hand, where a beater is attached to a pedal, or with one or two sticks with or without padding. There are a wide variety of sticks being used for this purpose that includes wooden sticks and also sticks with soft beaters that are being felt on the end.

In Jazz music, the drummers use brushes for a quieter and smoother sound texture. In many traditional cultures, the drums have a symbolic function and are used during various religious ceremonies. Moreover, drums are often used during Music Therapy. Especially the hand drums because of their tactile and easy-to-use nature that helps a wide variety of people to play them.

In popular jazz and music, drums usually refer to a set of drums or a drum kit and a drummer is a person who plays them.

The Drums

Sound of the Drums

Several factors contribute to the sound of the drums. This includes the shape, construction, and type of the drum shell, the type of the drum heads it comprises, and also the tension of these drumheads. Different drums produce different sounds.

For instance, the modern Tom-tom drum! A jazz drummer would prefer to play drums that are high-pitched, quiet, and resonant. On the other hand, a rock drummer might prefer drums that are dry, loud, and low-pitched.

It is the drumhead that has the most effect on how the drum sounds. Each type of drum head has its musical purpose and it also has its unique sound. The Double-ply drumheads diminish the high-frequency sounds because they are heavier and are much more suitable for heavy playing.

Next, the drums with a textured, white coating on them could muffle the overtones of the drum head slightly which results in producing a less diverse pitch. The drum heads with central silver or black dots tend to muffle the overtones even more while the drums that come with perimeter sound rings are the ones that mostly eliminate the overtones.

Some jazz drummers avoid using thick drum heads and rather prefer to use single-ply drumheads or drumheads with no muffling at all. The rock drummers usually prefer the coated drumheads or the thicker ones.

Another factor that affects the sounds of a drum is the head tension against the shell. In a drum, when the hoop is placed around the drum head and shell and is tightened down with the help of the tension rods, the tension of the head could be adjusted. Now, when the tension increases, the amplitude of the so9und gets reduced, and similarly when the frequency is increased, it makes the pitch higher and the volume lower.

The Shell type also affects the sound because the vibrations tend to resonate in the shell of the drum. The shell could be used to regulate the volume of the drum and also to manipulate the type of sound produced.

The Shell thickness contributes equally. For instance, the thicker shells produce louder drums.

The Drums

Origins of the Drums

Pre-Historic Times – Initially drums were used by the prehistoric ancestors as a simple object that was hit by a stick.

Various artifacts from China suggest that the percussionists played drums that were made from alligator skins and go as far as 5500 BC. Moreover, the iconography from ancient Mesopotamian, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman cultures showcases the use of drums in various cultural gatherings and religious ceremonies.

Several pieces of evidence suggest that both hand drums and drums played with the beaters evolved.

5500 BC– During this period, drums made with alligator skins first came into notice. It was originally made in Neolithic cultures from China but the knowledge soon reached entire Asia in the next few millennia.

3000 BC– Bronze Dong Son drums were first made in Northern Vietnam.

1000-500 BC– Tako Drums made their way from Japan to China

200-150 BC– African drums became widely popular in Rome and Greece

1200 AD- The Mediterranean trading routes by the Crusades opened and brought incredible wealth to Venice and Genoa. It also enabled the spreading of Middle Eastern, Indian, African, and Asian influences over Europe. Amongst all these new influences, the use of drums also came into existence.

1450- There was a vast expansion of various percussion instruments. These medieval prototypes soon became the basis of modern percussions.

1500– Via the slave trade, the African drums entered the Americas.

1600– The most popular percussion instruments in Renaissance that included tabors, timbrels, snare, long drums, monk bells, and jingle bells came into play. Additionally, the European military adopted the drums for easier communication between the troops and the commanders.

1650- During this period, the first version of the snare drum was created.

1800- There was a popularization of bongos in Cuban folklore music.

1820- The most popular percussion instruments of the Classical period of music that includes snare, kettle drum, gong, whip, vibraphone, triangle, marimba, and tambourine came into play. The drums were being used in orchestras along with professional musicians and composers who performed complicated musical pieces.

1890– During this period, there was the first appearance of drums that came equipped with a drum set and foot pedals.

The 1920s– First regular appearance of hi ha stands in the drum kits.

The 1930s– The four-piece kit became hugely popular

The 1940s– The double bass drum kit used by Jazz drummer Louie Bellson came into notice.

The 1960s-1980s– The drum sets became more elaborate and larger.

1973– First appearance of simple electric drum set which was made by Karl Bartos.

1982- The Swedish group known as Asocial was the one to first use the last beat drumming technique. The term Blast Beat was then popularized by the metal bands Napalm Death and Sepultura.

Late 1900s-early 2000s– Drums quickly became an integral part of the musical bands with more and more electronic bands using computer-generated drum sets to play music.

Who invented the Drums?

As per the records, the music historians generally do not credit any individual with the invention of the drums as similar to other musical instruments, the drums also slowly evolved with time. Over the centuries of innovation, the drums evolved accordingly. The same reason rings true for the drum beaters.

The Drums

Origins of the various Drums

  • The Frame Drum– The type of drums that are being used by today’s drummers has precursors in the musical instruments of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. During these cultures, the frame drums were the forebears of the 20th-century tom-toms and snare drums. Once these types of drums were built, the various drum sounds and the idiomatic drumming techniques emerged within each passing culture.
  • The Classical Drum – The history of drums originates back to early Middle Eastern traditions. The kettle drums of European classical music are likely to come from the Turkish and Egyptian cultures. Moreover, the classical bass drum also has its root back in the Ottoman Empire.
  • The Drum Kit- It is the 5-piece drum kit that has helped to shape the American jazz and rock music structure and contains drums that were adapted from the European classical instruments. In today’s date, the kick drums and the double bass drums come from the Classical bass drums. Also, the snare drums that are being used by the pop, rock, and jazz drummers come from the side drums of the marching bands.
  • The Modern Five-piece Drum Kit– The modern drum kit traces back to the early 20th century New Orleans where the jazz drummers assembled a drum set by using the various classical instruments. Even though some of the instruments had to be modified, for example, the bass drum, overall it made a big impact.

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