If you are looking for a history of drums and how they became so popular, you can check it out here. Drums are some of the oldest instruments that people have created with archaic versions of them dating back to at least a couple of thousand years BC. Sri Lankans, the Aztecs, and the Chinese are among the cultures that we know used drums in ancient times.
When you think of music today, it’s hard to imagine not only a studio recording but even more so a live performance, that doesn’t use some sort of percussion instrument, with the drums being the most popular out of them. Being considered the first form of played music by humankind, it’s quite a feat that they’ve remained popular to this day.
From the beginning
As you look at the history of music, you will surely notice that drums have been playing a very important role – some might even say the leading role. Even before civilizations were created and established, our ancestors had been using percussion instruments as archeologists have discovered.
The oldest drums ever found were part of the Neolithic cultures of what is now China and they were made using alligator skins. The oldest ones date back to as far as 5,500 – 2,350 BC, which means drums have been keeping us company for literally thousands of years, back then, being used probably for religious ceremonies.
Other old drums were found in the northern part of today’s Vietnam, and they date back to the Bronze Age Dong Son culture. Subsaharan Africa has also used drums since back in the day as a means of communication when it came to covering big distances, imitating the tone patterns of the spoken language.
Similarly, in Sri Lanka, it seems that drums have been used as a way of communication across vast areas since 2,500 years ago. It’s quite amazing to think about how important drums have always been for the cultures of the world, from being part of rituals to helping communication from point A to point B.
If the first proto-drums were used for various religious rituals, as soon as civilizations started to develop and have the need to expand, drums were one of the things that warriors took with them on the field, letting them communicate across various distances and intimidating the opponents.
Drums continued to be used for pretty much the same purposes all across the globe as they became known to other civilizations, including Europeans, probably the last continent on which drums arrived. To this day drums are used in military parades, taking us back to the days when they were used to scare off the enemy.
Civilizations didn’t stop their progress, not even during their dark years, as the origins of what we’d call today a drum part can be traced back to Medieval times. Naturally, as Renaissance started to spread across Europe, so did percussion instruments, which evolved from country to country.
As a side note, while drums have been through several incarnations through the years, other percussion instruments, such as cymbals, have been kept rather similar to their ancient counterparts for thousands of years – hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? It would take hundreds of years until drums had another boom in their evolution.
Drums kept pretty much the same features after the Renaissance era finished in the 1600s and in the 1800s, drums were still all the rage in the military, but, at least, this time, military orchestras had several percussionists. This made it possible for various types of drums, like the bass drums or the cymbals to be played at the same time, by different people.
The classical orchestra was made out of several percussion elements which, to this day, have remained an important part for any drum set, including, obviously, the drums, but also the triangle, the whip, the snare, the gong, the vibraphone, the marimba, and many more that are still in use today.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that people like inventors and musicians, at last, began combining two or more percussion instruments. In the early 1900s, there were plenty of attempts at the idea that the percussion section of an orchestra could involve fewer people than the big numbers that were used.
One of the things that would completely change the way of the drums happened in the early 20th century, when William F. Ludwig created a new and different design for the drums – today, we call that a foot pedal for the bass drum. We tend to take this invention for granted now, but it was quite a revelation back then.
This was such an important thing then (and now), because by using that invention, you had both hands free to play, at the same time, several parts of what would become in the future the drum set we know today. It’s quite amazing that it took thousands of years for people to invent something that is now used across all continents.
It wasn’t until this invention happened, that drummers could start playing their instrument by sitting down, after long years in which the only way you could deliver the sounds from a drum was to sit up. So, basically, the drum set we know now only started shaping up once the bass pedal was introduced.
It was thanks to the effort of some people that drums managed to evolve afterward at a much quicker pace. In the early 1900s, orchestras usually had really small budgets (they probably still do), which meant that one way of saving money was assigning as many percussion parts as possible to only one person.
This would finally lead to the next big moment, the one in which what we could call the first drum set ever was created. This would only happen in the latter part of the 1900s, and the drum set had three parts: a bass drum, a snare drum, and a cymbal. The first two were stand-mounted, letting the player use all three parts of the set.
Obviously, after drummers started to use this three-piece drum set more and more, they were looking for the next way in which they could improve their experience. This resulted in many experiments, and, as it happens with the vast majority of experiments in all fields, they didn’t translate to anything more than that. But one did manage to survive.
The hi-hat is the name of that invention and, alongside the previously mentioned three parts, also became an important part of any drum set, being in use to this very day. Of course, the design back then was a bit more different than what we’re used to today, but we all have to start somewhere.
The base principle remained the same, having two cymbals that face in opposite directions, and crashing together when the pedal is pressed. The sound was not unlike the one you can hear today on a hi-hat, being a sort of hand-muted sound, that, back then, of course, it was nothing short of a revelation.
One thing that changed about it was the height. In those days, this instrument, which was named a little boy, was just a foot above the ground, and it was only in later years that it started to grow in size and to actually be called by everybody in the orchestra by the hi-hat name.
Anybody who studied the history of the drums knows that Gene Krupa is one of the essential figures when it comes to drumming, and even if you don’t know his name, you surely know his contribution to the classic song “Sing, Sing, Sing” in 1937, when Big Band was all the rage.
Gene was highly energetic on stage and played really fast, making the drum, not just a background accompanying line, but an important solo sound in the band. In other words, it was him that made the drums popular as a solo instrument, a thing that, somehow, never really took off before.
You can find many recordings of him anywhere, and you will probably notice a combination of drum parts that have become the norm since then, being still in use in the music of today, which, really, if you think about it, is no small feat, considering the fact that we are talking about almost 100 years here.
Drums are still here today, thanks to Ginger Baker, Phil Collins, and Ellie Goulding, who have either created something new or made it popular with a new generation – or both!
When were drums invented?
Drums must be among the oldest musical instruments ever created by humankind, which is why their origins date millennia ago, and archaeological proof is the only way to identify them. The history of the drum, as we know it, starts around 6000 BC, according to such evidence discovered in Moravia. The earliest models of drums were made from hollowed tree trunks. Their makers covered one end with the skin of a reptile or fish.
This way, the basics of a musical instrument were created. Drum sticks wouldn’t appear for a while, as these incipient drums were struck with the hands to obtain sound. The drums history also teaches us that the type of skin used for making the surface that covered one end of a hollowed tree was replaced later with the hide obtained from hunted game. Cattle hide also became widespread.
Who made the drums?
While clear information on who created the first drums is not available, it is quite evident that the musical instrument had a crucial importance in the incipient human societies where they appear. In China, where the first drums seem to have appeared around 5500 BC, they were part of religious ceremonies. It should come as no surprise that their role hasn’t modified that much since they are also used for various celebratory occasions even today.
The evolution of drums wouldn’t be complete without learning where and when the first drum sticks were created. Surprisingly enough, the first things used as sticks to hit the covered end of the drum didn’t emerge until the 14th century. These early drum sticks were named tabors. However, it wouldn’t be until much later – the 18th century – that the drum sticks became a fixture.
Why did slaves use drums for communication?
An essential part of the history of this musical instrument is tightly woven with that of slavery. While it is clear that slaves didn’t use any professional drums, they used their inventiveness to create such items and use them to communicate between themselves.
In sub-Saharan Africa, drums are considered to have souls and personalities, distinct and easy to observe for the people living here. This concept might have its roots in the African spirituality that believes trees to be the keepers of great ancestors’ souls. Since drums are made from wood taken from these trees, it is easy to see why they would humanize such items.
The slaves taken from Africa and to the Americas were first told to beat the drum due to the spiritual connotation it had for them. The slavers thought it would help them maintain high morale during the trip. However, once they arrived at their destination, they were forbidden to do the same.
That didn’t mean that the African slaves would forget about their heritage. They took their drums with them everywhere they went, which is why one can find so many African influences in various music genres, like blues, rock, and hip-hop.
The drums weren’t only about the music and preserving their cultural heritage. Slave uprisings in the south of the United States would know the presence of drums and their role in helping the participants communicate and call each other to action.
Snare drum history
We cannot talk about drums without taking a look at the snare drum and its history. The Renaissance in Europe took to the popular drums of the times, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the modern snare drum came to be.
Until then, the snare drum origin could be considered the tabor, but the resemblance is far from making it a recognizable ancestor. The use of a coiled wire improved the traditional design and allowed the snare drum to be born. This addition allowed the snare drum to produce the rattle effect for which it is known.
When was the drum set invented?
Military bands used drums extensively, and drum sticks hadn’t been introduced until the 18th century when the armies in march demanded them to be reinvented and used on a large scale. Snare drums were used on their own, and the same thing happened with cymbals. Combining them in a single instrument wasn’t practical.
During the 13th century, in France, an unknown inventor came up with the snare drum, an element of what would later become part of a drum set. However, we cannot say, at this point, that the first drum set made an early appearance.
But who invented the drum set? The correct answer would be William F. Ludwig, Sr., and his brother, Theobald Ludwig. Together, they founded the company carrying their names, the first to sell a bass drum pedal system. While it might not have looked like what you know today to be a drum kit, it was the first attempt and knew commercial success, as well.
How are African drums made?
Africa is a continent with deep cultural roots, and some of them are strongly related to how drums are seen in these societies to this day. The African drums history goes back in time, millennia ago, and how people here regard this musical instrument is like nothing in the world.
A history of drumming would never be complete with African drums and their connotation. Today, these drums are made from wood, metal, and large gourds. You can find them in various shapes and sizes, and there are one-handed and two-handed models available.
A rattling effect is obtained by placing seeds and beads the maker puts inside the drums. The West African djembe is the most renowned. The body is a hollowed tree trunk, while goatskin is used to cover one end.
Famous African drummers
It is not surprising that many talented drummers today come from Africa. Famoudou Konate is a well-known djembe player born in Guinea. He performed for The Guinea Ballet between 1959 and 1987. Currently a teacher and a soloist, he has released eight albums throughout his career.
Adama Dramé comes from Burkina Fasso and is another accomplished African drummer. He started playing the drums at the age of 12, as part of his father’s band. Abdoulaye Diakite from Senegal used to be the lead soloist of Ballet National du Senegal, a position he kept for 18 years. Babatunde Olatunji is another important name; a drummer from Nigeria, he recorded with celebrities like Carlos Santana and Stevie Wonder.