Since prehistoric times, humans have been busy devising new ways to keep a beat. A long history of percussive inventiveness means there is a wide variety of drums from which to choose. While most traditional drums used in world music were made from natural materials such as animal skins, gourds and bones, modern drums tend to use synthetic materials.
Drum kits are a common fixture found in jazz bands to garage bands. One of the essential parts of a drum kit is the snare drum -- sometimes called the sliced bread of the percussion world. The snare drum creates its sound by using tightened strands of metal or plastic called snares stretched along the bottom of the drumhead. Using drumsticks or a jazz brush, players can create a variety of different types of sound on the snare, including the iconic drumroll. Other kit drums include the tom-tom -- a type of non-snared synthetic drum -- and the low-pitched kick bass, played using a pedal kickstand.
If you’ve ever been to a drum circle, chances are you have heard the distinctive, thunderous sound of this type of drum. As the name suggests, hand drums are played entirely with the different parts of the hands, such as the palms, fingers and thumbs. One of the most common hand drums is the West African djembe, which ranges from 11 to 14 inches in diameter and around 24 inches in height, and is topped with a skin made of rawhide or synthetic material. Another popular hand drum in world music is the Middle Eastern doumbek, whose fiberglass or synthetic shell creates a crisp, higher-pitched percussive sound. Other types of hand drums include the bongos, congas, tablas and hang drums.
Large, heavy drums produce low-pitched sounds that often are used to drive the rhythm of different songs. The timpani and pitched bass drums found in marching bands and orchestras are among the most common types of oversize drum. The taiko -- literally meaning “big fat drum” -- is a large double-headed oversize drum used in traditional Japanese music. These drums generally are positioned on wooden frames and played on both ends with large drumsticks called bachi.
Percussion artists have a wide variety of drums to choose from, many of which don’t fall into the categories of kit, hand or oversize drums. One type of drum popular in Irish folk music is the bodhran -- a frame drum sporting a circular wooden body and goatskin head played with a double-headed stick called a beater or tipper. Although the pitch differs depending on the size of the frame, most bodhrans produce a low, thundering bass that helps support the melody played by someone on the fiddle or uilleann pipes. The steelpan drum is another popular percussion instrument often heard in Caribbean music. Using a body made from a tuned metal frame, these drums create a bright, clean sound that easily can double as the melody for a song.
Based in the Appalachian Mountains, Brian Connolly is a certified nutritionist and has been writing professionally since 2000. He is a licensed yoga and martial arts instructor whose work regularly appears in “Metabolism,” “Verve” and publications throughout the East Coast. Connolly holds advanced degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and the University of Virginia.