D is for Drum

A drum is a musical instrument which is classified as a membranophone, because it produces sound by the vibration of a stretched membrane.  Instruments that produce sound by means of a vibrating membrane are also known as membranophones.  Drums are part of the larger category of musical devices known as percussion instruments.  Percussion instruments other than membranophones are known as idiophones.  Idiophones, such as bells and cymbals, produce sound by the vibration of the instrument itself rather than by an attached membrane.  The membrane, which is known as the head, covers one or both ends of a hollow body known as the shell.  A double-sided drum has 2 kinds of heads, and the side that you hit is called the batter head, while the bottom skin is termed the resonant head.

Before the drum was invented, our ancestors made percussive sounds by clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and slapping other parts of their body.  When someone discovered that repetitive rhythmic hits on bones, skulls, antlers, gourds, or hollow tree branches could make pleasant sounds, the drum was born.  Drums have been used historically for a variety of purposes other than music, including military campaigns, religious ceremonies and as a means of communication.  Drums can mimic speech, issue battle orders, maintain rhythm in music, or invite friends to gather.  The drum is one of the oldest musical instruments used by mankind and almost anything can be that can be struck, shaken, or scraped can be called a drum.  Our prehistoric ancestors used fish or reptile skin that was stretched over hollow tree trunks and were struck with the hands, and later the skins of wild or domesticated mammals were used to make larger drums, which were struck with a stick.  Despite centuries of technological advancements, drums continue to evoke the most ancient, primordial reactions from listeners.  Drums have shaped and defined cultures around the world, and have impacted how those cultures communicate and express themselves.  Drums came into their modern form some 7 thousand years ago, when the Neolithic cultures from China started discovering new uses for alligator skins.

Immigrants coming to America between the late 1800s and early 20th century brought their various percussion instruments with them and the modern drum is the result of this cultural mixing.  In the late 1800’s it was commonplace to find several drummers in one band.  Each drummer was assigned an instrument, snare drum, cymbals, a bass drum and took their place amongst relatively large bands of musicians.  Around the 1860s, bands started to experiment with multiple percussion instruments, combining them into what was then known as a trap set.  The drum set became a collection of hybrid instruments that evolved from different cultures around the world.  This developed out of a demand for an ever-increasing variety of sounds from percussionists and a shortage of space on the stage to accommodate those instruments and money in the budget to pay all those musicians.  In the 1890s, direct-drive bass drum pedals were invented to allow a single musician to “multi-task” by playing two drums at once (typically a snare and bass drum.)  In 1909, William F. Ludwig, Sr. of the Ludwig Drum Co. invented the foot pedal for the bass drum, which allowed drummers to play multiple parts simultaneously.

When drummers wanted more, the drum set evolved to include a pair of tom-toms and also a contraption tray, holding horns, whistles and various other noisemakers.  The drum set was further developed during the 1920s in New Orleans, so that a drummer could play the bass drum and snare with sticks while using a pedal to control the cymbals.  In 1917, a New Orleans band called The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded jazz tunes that became hits all over the country.  In 1918, the Chicago-based Ludwig Drum Company debuted the Jazz-Er-Up, an all-in-one set with a single-bass drum and pedal, a snare, two cymbals and a woodblock.  Jazz became one of the first genres of music that recognized the importance of percussion instruments in bands.

The snare drum and the cymbal were both stand-mounted and joined the bass drum, allowing the drummer to play seated.  The low boy was a new instrument, which included a pair of oppositely facing cymbals, mounted a foot off the ground, that crashed together when the pedal was depressed.  Soon the low boy grew taller, evolving into the hi-hat we know today.  For the first time in history, a single person was able to create the pulse, the back beat, the syncopation, and the texture of a percussion piece of music all by themself.

In 1935, Gene Krupa joined Benny Goodman’s orchestra, setting a new standard for drummers with his flamboyant showmanship and his drum set that featured tunable tom-toms and foot-operated high-hat cymbal and he became the face of swing in the Big Band era.  Gene worked closely with Avedis Zildjian to develop the crash, ride, splash, and hi-hat cymbals that we know today.  Together they developed the first crash and splash cymbals used on the drum kit.  Gene was singly responsible for bringing the drums out of the background and into the center-stage spotlight.  Krupa was the first star drummer, the percussionist who transformed the drums from merely time-keeping to a prominent role as a solo instrument.  Krupa made key adjustments to the way his drum kit was set up.  His kit built on the snare-kick-hi-hat setup which the innovative New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds had established as the norm in the early 1920s.  Krupa added resonant tom-tom drums, which he finely tuned to blend with his snare sound, as well as extra cymbals to provide more tonal color.  Krupa’s drum kit included a bass drum, two or three toms, a snare drum, along with a few cymbals, and a cowbell or two.

I may write a part 2 for this post, as there is a lot more that I would like to say about drums, but I think this is enough for now.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

15 thoughts on “D is for Drum

  1. Drummers in our high school band (and every other band I knew) were the ‘rascals’. It seems connected to the choice of the instrument but I’m not a psychologist, so I’m assuming more than I can explain. 😉

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  2. Very interesting history of drums. I love the sound and beat of drums. Over here in the east we have “dhool” which has percussion skin on both sides and is usually hung around the neck with a string. And there is “tabla “ which is smaller with a different sound. Both produce unique sounds.

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  3. Finding a drummer that is actually sane is a hard thing to do… a band is only as strong as it’s drummer and bass player.

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      1. Jim I guess it takes a different mind set to play drums…they must use a different part of the brain and be a different kind of person. The only normal one I know…is not that good.

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