If you are checking out the reviews of best overhead drum mics, you probably also need to know what the different types of drums out there are. If you are not an expert at this craft, you may think that there are just one or two types. But, the truth is, there is so much more to drums than you would be led to believe.
Regardless of where they come from in the world, any musical instrument that produces sound after getting beaten is named a percussion instrument, but, keep in mind that not all percussion instruments are drums. The word comes from “percussio” in Latin which means to beat (but not in a violent way, in a beautiful and musical kind of way).
From that Latin word came “percussion” in our language and we use that word to describe anything that, when struck, produces a sound. A piano is a string instrument, even if the hammers are used to beat the strings, as it is the strings that produce the sound and you don’t hit them with your bare hands or sticks.
How do you categorize them?
As with many other things, you can use different ways to categorize these devices. From where they originated (Africa, Asia, Europe), to what function they have (band, military), and from their shape (cylindrical, hourglass, box) to the most basic way of looking at them (acoustic, electronic, world), you can look at these instruments in dozens of ways.
Yet, for this article, we have chosen to look at them from their origins, as this will cover rather nicely all other aspects, including knowing what their function is, what size and shape they have, and how they are played normally. There is so much to cover so let’s get to it right away!
The African drums
Despite being the second-largest continent, you’d be surprised to find out that there are a lot of Sub-Saharan languages that don’t actually have a word to describe rhythm or even music in some cases. But that hasn’t stopped the people from Africa from enjoying the beating of the drums since Ancient times.
Some musicologists see traditional music in Africa as being so similar to one another, that they consider African music a style in its own, with the differences that you find from area to area being seen as more of a regional music style, than stand-alone genres. Naturally, some disagree.
The most important aspect of African drumming is the cross-beat and syncopation, things that you can hear on such instruments such as the udu, the log drum, or the djembe, with djembe being probably the most popular out of all the drums that you can find across the whole of Africa.
In Uganda, the ngoma is a ceremonial drum that is used in rituals or to symbolize authority and to communicate over long distances, although in Swahili (the official language of the country), ngoma is used to describe a drum, any kind of drum, in general. Some Bantu people groups also have a close connection to this type of drum.
The ngoma, as a set, has a bakisimba, that, when hit, produces the sound of a deep bass sound – if you want a comparison, you can think of how the kick drum of a Western drum set sounds like. The empuunya may have a higher pitch, but the overall sound is part of the bass range.
Something that sounds like a snare is the nankasa, which you play using sticks, not your hands, as you would do with most types of drums that you can find in Africa. The engalabi is closely related to the ngoma, but it’s taller and narrower than other drums that you have in such a set.
Drums in Asia
The first people in Asia to create something like a drum were the Ancient Chinese, which used alligator skin to create them! From there, this instrument spread across all of Asia, from the neighboring Japan and India, all the way to the Middle East, and, later, they also arrived in Europe (in the Roman Empire, present-day Italy) and Australia.
Despite the fact that they’ve made drums so popular across so many countries, when it comes to percussion, Asians usually prefer the gongs and the cymbals, but you can still find drums like the bangu (popular in the Beijing opera) and the dagu (a large drum made out of wood that you play using sticks).
One country that loves using drums to this very day is India, not only for religious reasons, but at military parades and other, similar events, as well. Naturally, different types of drums have developed across the Indian subcontinent, since so many cultures are gathered under one umbrella.
One popular choice is the tumbaknaer, which is played when you recite devotionals. The table is the number one choice, though, but both of them are played using your fingers and the palm of your hands, not the drumsticks. India is the home to the oldest percussion instrument still in use, the mridangam.
Following tradition, drum players in India use a mix of water and flour on some of them in order to lower the tone they achieve. Of course, after you’ve stopped playing the drum, the coating is removed. For Northern India, you’ll find that the Pakhawaj is the equivalent to this instrument, even having the same shape and two heads.
The Pakhawaj drum used to be really popular when it came to dhammar or Dhrupad singers, but, today, it is used less often, unfortunately.
Proof that humankind migrated from Africa is the fact that many cultures have goblet drums as part of their traditions, such as the darbuka, which is found in some parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and, of course, the Northern part of Africa. It can have different names, based on the region, such as dumbeg or tarabaki.
The drums of Oceania
Drumming is an important part of Oceanic cultures, and from the Aborigines in New Zealand to the people of Kiribati or Nauru, you will find drums as being highly important for their cultures, regardless if we are talking about religious moments or ways of being entertained. This also makes them sometimes different from anything else in the world.
For example, in Micronesia and New Guinea drums are usually instruments that you hold in your hands, something that isn’t the case in other regions. This means that they don’t play the drums using both hands, as one hand holds the handle of the drum, and the other hand hits the drum.
While in some parts of Africa, it’s women who play the drums, in these regions, it’s something that is considered to be a man’s job, although there is evidence that, sometime, a really long time ago, drumming in this area was a woman’s job. It is not known how it went from an all-women activity to an all-men activity.
Another thing that makes the drums of Oceania stand out is the fact that the vast majority of them are beaten with your hands, making the use of sticks or mallets something quite rare, that is found only in some cultures, and even there, it’s practiced rarely, mostly with only some types of drums and only for some cultural reasons.
Surprisingly, the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand weren’t always such big fans of drumming. The Maori of New Zealand only started drumming after coming in contact with the Europeans, while the Aborigines of Australia relied on wind instruments, not really being a fan of the drums.
The European drums
Europeans invented the snare drum in the 1300s and there is proof that drum sticks (as they are known today) were created during the same period of time. Also around this time, the timpani was created (a sort of kettle drum), but it wouldn’t gain widespread popularity until the Renaissance era.
The bass drum was also created around this time, and it quickly became popular as it was used in the military bands. The evolution of drums stopped for a long period of time until contact with other continents in the 1800s made Europeans try different types of drums, especially in the Iberic region.
The drums of Latin America
Among the instruments most popular here we must mention the Cajun, the conga, and the timbale, which are found across many regions of Latin America.
So, there you have it, the most popular types of drums from all regions of the globe! Which one is your favorite?
The history of the drum
As one of the earliest musical instruments, there is a lot of information about drums to fill entire books, so it is difficult to explore all of it. Instead, we will focus on what’s most interesting, namely the origin of the drum, and then talk a bit more about the evolution of the 19th, 20th, and modern drums.
Thus, if you are interested in learning more about this instrument’s history, do give this section of our article a quick read.
One of the earliest known examples of percussion instruments are idiophones that produce sound via the vibration of the entire instrument. The oldest ones date back from 70,000 BC and were made from mammoth bones.
The idiophones were the instruments that led the way to the different kinds of drums that are used by today’s drummers. The earliest records of drums are dated to a period ranging from 5,500 to 2,350 BC, and they were found in Neolithic cultures in China. These drums had drum heads that were stretched over a very shallow wooden frame.
These were the forebears of the 20th-century tom-toms and snare drums. There are many records of drums or instruments very similar to it in cultures all over the world, but the origin of the classical drums traces its roots to Middle Eastern traditions. It is believed that the kettle drums used in European classical music came from either Egyptian or Turkish cultures.
Originally, the drum was used in superstitious and religious rituals and then it moved on to military purposes, and that’s because drumming was one of the most effective methods to communicate and relay orders to a group of people. This remained the case until late in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
The most revolutionary thing to happen in the history of drums took place in the first decade of the 20th century when William F. Ludwig introduced a new design that would be known and referred to as a foot pedal for a bass drum. Unlike traditional drums, this improved design allowed both hands to be free and play the multiple parts of what will soon become the drum set.
The first drum set appeared in the 1920s and included three parts, a cymbal, a snare drum, and a bass drum. The cymbal and the stand were mounted, and this allowed the player to use all three elements of the set simultaneously.
As drummers got more comfortable with this new three-piece design, it didn’t take long for them to want to use even more drum types. One of the most important figures that helped popularize the drums was Gene Krupa, as he came out with the combination of big and small drum types that are the standard on today’s drum sets.
He was the first to use a set that consisted of two toms, a snare drum, a bass drum, three cymbals, and a hi-hat. What made this setup so good was that it allowed for very fast polyrhythmic sequences. It shouldn’t be surprising that soon after this, all types of drummers started to use the setup, and this led to many of the patterns that are still standard today.
Modern drums nowadays are far more complicated since there are so many different types of drums to choose from. However, when looking from a purely technical viewpoint, not many things have changed since the early 20th century.
The most basic drum setup today still consists of a bass drum, a couple of small drums called toms, a floor tom, a set of cymbals, and a snare.
The main difference is that the market today is much more diverse, and all types of drums are only one click away. This allows modern artists to create far more complex configurations so that they can get more colors in their music.
There are many types of drums in a drum kit, and the configurations are endless. Drummers can use different sizes and types of toms, cymbals, snares, very large drums, tall drums, as well as many other percussion instruments. The fundamentals remain the same, but the instrument has evolved enough to create complex and exquisite sounds that were just not possible before.
What are the most popular kinds of drums?
The modern drum set comes in a wide variety of configurations and sizes, but the most common setup is the 5-piece, which includes two rack toms, one bass drum, a floor tom, and a snare drum.
The rack toms are also known as tom-toms, and they’re usually arranged around the drum kit from small to large. They produce a resonant and open sound, and they have a defined tone and pitch. Most rack toms are anywhere between 10 to 12 inches in diameter, but sizes can vary.
The bass drum is the largest instrument in the drum set. Just as the rack toms, it is available in a wide variety of sizes, but most bass drums are anywhere between 18 to 24 inches in diameter. This drum is played with a bass drum pedal that the drummer operates using their foot. The bass drum produces a punchy low-end tone.
The floor tom is the second-largest drum percussion instrument in a standard drum set. It is usually either mounted to a cymbal stand or kept in place by floor tom legs. Most floor toms measure about 14 to 16 inches in diameter, and they produce deep tones with a low-end boom sound.
The snare drum is the most iconic drum type since it is the one that is played the most in a typical set. The sound it produces has a very distinct and snappy high-end pup. It usually measures 13 to 14 inches in diameter, and it can vary largely in depth.
One of the snare drum facts that you may not be aware of is that there are many different types of snare drums: the marching snare that produces a very deep tone, the drum kit snare that we talked about above, the piccolo snare with its higher pitch, the tabor, which is the original snare, the tarol, which is smaller even than the kit snare, and many others.
Types of hand drums
The most popular drums you play with your hands are the congas, bongos, and tabla drums. While most of these instruments can be played by hand, some will also work with tippers. Each of these three hand drums has a unique pattern and playing technique, and we will talk a bit about each one below.
The conga drum comes from Cuba, and it is a single-headed drum that is very tall and narrow. These tall drums look almost like barrels. This instrument is usually used for genres such as rumba, but it can also be used in some forms of Latin music.
The bongos are a type of African drum that also has its origin in Cuban culture. The drums come as a pair, and they’re attached and meant to be played together. The larger drum is called the hembra (female), while the smaller drum is called the macho (male) in Spanish.
The tabla is a drum that originates from India, and it is also very popular in Pakistan where it is used for popular, classical, and devotional music. The instrument consists of two hand drums of different shapes and sizes. They’re very similar to the tall bongo drums in this regard.
The tabla drums are played by hitting the fingers on the drum head and then sliding the palm across it. This creates a modulating sound. Depending on how the drummer uses his or her hands, the tabla can create a lot of different sounds.
What are the types of drums in a marching band?
While marching bands have undergone different changes across the years, the drums themselves haven’t changed much. The drumline in a marching band is also called the battery, and it usually consists of marching tenor drums, snare drums, bass drums, and sometimes even cymbals.
The types of drums in a marching band can vary by a lot, depending on the preference that the director has. The size of the drums depends on how big the marching ensemble is as a whole.
For example, a high school band that consists of no more than 40 players will only have a drum line of five. Bands with hundreds of players, such as university bands, can have a drum line with up to 50 or more instruments.
Each instrument in the drumline should add color to the sound of the ensemble and help maintain a steady tempo. The drums that you will find in a marching band are no different than those found in the common drum set.
However, since there are so many more drummers playing in a marching band, it is possible to add more richness to the music since each different drum will have its distinct sound. The most popular type of drum for marching bands is the snare drum since the snare wires give it a snappy, military-style sound.