Providing a few interesting facts about the history of drums and some of the important players is a useful motivating tool for the aspiring young drummer. Parents may be skeptical about encouraging a child’s drum aspirations because they do not want to deal with the noise. Drummers, however, need to practice, like any musician, to develop their skills and musicianship. There are a few options for cutting down the noise.
The Snare Drum
Many drummers consider the snare the most important drum in the drum kit, with the bass drum a close second. Students typically begin learning drum technique with the snare. Snare drums have a metal or wooden frame, with a drumhead stretched across the top and another across the bottom. The snare's distinctive sound comes from metal wires strung across the bottom of the drum, which produce the “snare,” or buzzing sound, as the drummer strikes it. The snare can produce a variety of sounds depending on whether drummers strike the drumhead, the rim or the shell of the drum for different rhythmic effects and tones. Drummers may use drumsticks or, for a softer sound, brushes.
The Drum Kit and Famous Drummers
The drum kit, or set, is the foundation for most forms of popular music. A drum kit allows the drummer to play several types of drums simultaneously, including bass, snare and toms, as well as cymbals. The bass produces deep tones; drummers play it with a foot pedal. The toms provide deep to medium tones. Gene Krupa, considered the first drumming superstar, was the dominant jazz drummer in the 1930s. In the Big Band era the drummer was essentially part of the rhythm section. Krupa redefined the role of the drummer by playing more complicated and technical rhythms. He helped to popularize the idea of the drum solo, now a staple in jazz and rock music.
Bebop jazz, which followed the Swing Era, demanded different rhythmic techniques to keep up with the blistering speeds and unusual rhythms of the music. Drummers such as Art Blakey and Max Roach used the ride cymbal rather than the bass and snare to keep the beat. Rock music has produced a number of drumming superstars, including Ringo Star (The Beatles), Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience), Keith Moon (The Who), Ginger Baker (Cream) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin).
African Hand Drums
The djembe, a hand drum that originated in Africa, typically is made from wood, clay or metal. The drumhead originally came from animal skins, but modern versions usually use thin plastic. Drummers tune it by tightening the drumhead. They play the djembe with bare hands, sticks, bones or other objects. It produces a variety of sounds, from sharp, thin sounds to deep bass tones, depending on where and how drummers strike the drumhead.
Djembes are available in a variety of models, sizes and painted pattens. Drummers can play the djembe while sitting with the drum held between their knees or while standing using a shoulder strap.
Practice Pads and Electronic Drums
One of the major hurdles young drummers encounter is finding practice space that doesn’t bother family or neighbors. One option is to practice with drum practice pads, which are small and lightweight and simulate the feel and bounce of a real drum without the loud noise. Electronic drums are excellent for practice as well as live performances. They allow a drummer to play a whole drum kit, including cymbals, while listening with headphones -- and without annoying the neighbors.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.