Understanding the Basic History of Drums
Percussion, or hitting one object with another to make
sound, is one of the oldest means of instrumental noise
making. In ancient civilizations and primitive tribes of
peoples, striking hollowed out logs was perhaps the
earliest form of percussion.
That musical group has grown and developed over time
to include a vast array of instruments. But perhaps the
instrument most connected with the instrumental
family of percussion is the drum.
What is a Drum?
Drums have their own unique history outside of the blanket history of percussion because a drum is
designed fundamentally different from the logs and rocks and things that the ancients were pounding
on to make noise. A drum is constructed by stretching a membrane across a hollow base.
It is the membrane, now synthetic but
traditionally made from animal skin, which
produces the actual sound of a drum when
struck by a mallet or stick. Different textures
and degrees of tightness to which the
membrane is stretch will determine the tone of
True drums then, not simply logs, have likewise
been in existence for centuries. As early as
5500 BC drums were in use in ancient China
and Africa and records of drums being used by
the native peoples of Chile has been found
dating back thousands of years
Other early civilizations and primitive tribes from around the globe also used drums within their own
cultures. This use was mainly for shamanistic rituals or other religious ceremonies or for use in battle or
the preparation for battle.
The use of pre-battle rituals is especially prevalent among the early tribes of peoples. War dances and
ceremonies making extensive use of drums can be found in most early tribes the world over.
Celebrations of victory in battle likewise employed widespread drumming for these peoples. And as the
world progressed the use of drums continued to revolve around warfare.
The modernizing colonial armies of western powers during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used drums
directly on the battlefield to a great extent. The picture is
easily remembered in most minds of a line of troops with
muskets facing a similar but opposing line of soldiers and
inevitably in this memorization is found a man beating on
This was because the drums of the massive western armies
were used as a form of communication between the
generals and their soldiers. Even amongst the chaos of
battle a rhythmic drum could be heard and therefore orders
could be issued based upon the variations of that rhythm.
Music and Drums
Out of religious ceremony and wartime necessity
evolved the entertainment drum that we recognize
today. Developing to its modern form in the 1930s in
the musically rich city or New Orleans, a standard drum
kit comprising different styles of drums and symbols
arranged together in a way that allows for one musician
to play multiple kinds of drums at once was born.
These modern compositions of drums used through the
centuries have even lead to the creation of sound bite
drum samples. Drum samples are recorded drum beats,
rhythms, and sounds that are sold to those who are
interested in the music without the musician.
If you enjoyed learning about the history of drums, you may be interested in learning more about
graphic arts. Many successful musicians today have become designers and otherwise involved in the
They find that becoming involved in graphics arts helps them find a more practical way to apply their
skills to the real world. Look into a graphic arts program today to see if it is a good fit for you.
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