Drums have been in the world for thousands of years. They’ve gone through many variations over time and we’ve ended up with hundreds of different types of drums in modern times.
Many cultures have some unique instruments, especially in the percussion category. So, we’re going to take a look at different types of drums and see what makes them different, discover how they produce sounds, and learn about why they work in their specific environments.
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Various Drum Kit Types
When mentioning drums, the first thing most people will think about will be acoustic drum kits. These are the most popular types of drums in the Western world. There’s generally a drummer in every band, meaning there are tens of thousands of drummers around.
Most acoustic drum kits have standard setups. However, the sizes and number of drums will differ according to the style of music that the drummer is playing.
Jazz drum kits are typically quite small. The bass drum will range from 16” to 20” and the toms will be tuned high to get a resonating tone. Many jazz drummers will also use large cymbals all around the kit. These small drum kits are called compact kits and they’re also used by drummers who want easy kits to travel with.
Rock drum kits have the standard setup that most people know of. A 20” or 22” kick drum along with 3 toms, 1 snare, and surrounding cymbals. This type of setup is used for rock as well as many other genres of music.
The tuning of the drums depends on the preference of the drummer. Some drummers like deep and punchy tones while others like high and resonating ones.
Metal drum kits will have several toms and cymbals, creating a huge setup that has many sounds. Metal drummers play on kits like this because the style of music requires many different tones from the drums.
Snare Drums and Bass Drums
The basis of every drum kit is the snare drum and bass drum. These are the two most important drums because they’re played the most. However, these two drums were around long before the acoustic drum kit. They’re commonly used for playing military and orchestral music.
The two most common places you’ll see these drums nowadays is in a drum line or an orchestra. Orchestras will have a snare drum on a stand that is played by a percussionist. There’ll also be a bass drum that is laid on its side to be played by a different percussionist in the section.
Drum lines will have a different type of snare drum known as a marching snare. It’s strapped to a harness that the player has. He plays the snare while marching. Marching snares are typically a lot tighter and louder than your standard snares.
Similarly, the bass drum player in a drum line will also have the drum strapped to his body. Bass drum players use big mallets to play both sides of the bass drum.
Sticking to the topic of drum lines, the third type of drums used in them are the tenor drums. A tenor drum setup typically has 4 to 6 drums of varying sizes. One drummer will be marching with these and they allow the drum section to get varying tones. They’re similar to toms on an acoustic kit. However, their sound is much tighter and more aggressive.
A drum line will have several players in each section to get a big sound. Typically, there will be 3 or more players on the bass, snare, and tenor drums.
Electronic drums produce synthetic sounds that are either sampled from existing acoustic drums or created entirely from scratch on a computer. The most popular forms of electronic drums are electronic drum kits. These kits are often used as quiet alternatives to loud acoustic drum kits.
Although, electronic drum kit technology has hugely improved over time and many drummers now use them as their primary choices of drum kit setups.
Other types of electronic drums would be electronic drum pads. These sample pads allow you to do many things such as run backing tracks, produce synth sounds, create samples, and run entire live sets.
When drummers mix electronic drums and acoustic drums, it’s called hybrid drumming. Hybrid drumming is very popular in modern music, especially in pop settings.
Some drummers will place electronic sampling pads next to their drum kit while others will use standard electronic pads taken from electronic drum kits. They’ll trigger the pads to create sounds like handclaps or finger snaps.
Timps are vital parts of most orchestras. They’re massive drums that are most commonly used in groups of either two or four. A unique thing about them is that they produce melodic tones. So, a timpani player has to tune the timps to fit the key of the song that they’re playing in.
To do this, the player will press on pedals below the timps that tighten or loosen the drum skin. Once the timps are in tune, they produce a bellowing bass tone that is iconic in many compositions.
It sounds like it could be a bit of a mission to tune them before every song. However, professional timpani players get really good at doing this and sometimes even change the tuning in the middle of a composition.
Congas and Bongos
Originating in Cuba, congas and bongos are incredibly popular percussion instruments. They’re used in most percussion setups and provide attacking tones that are distinctly heard in most music. The trouble with these two types of drums is that many people confuse them for each other.
Bongos are the smaller drums and every set of bongos will have two drums connected by a bridging piece of wood. You can hold bongos in your legs while sitting or you can mount them to a stand to play while standing up.
They produce a high-pitched attacking tone and you can play a sound similar to a snare rimshot when hitting the edge of the bongos with your fingers.
Congas are the larger drums. They often come in groups of two, but you can purchase one at a time. Some percussionists will use one conga while others will use several.
They produce a bass tone that is deep and warm. Congas are quite tall, meaning you either have to stand to play them or have a chair that allows you to reach them. Congas and bongos are often used in conjunction with each other.
A tabla is a pair of drums that come from India. The male drum produces a bass tone and the female drum produces a tenor tone. These drums are used in many variations of Indian music. The sound is extremely recognizable and is often heard along with the distinct sounds of a sitar.
To play the tabla, you need to sit cross-legged and hit the skins of the drums with your fingers and palms. There are different techniques to use that will bring out different sounds.
Djembe drums originate from the continent of Africa. They are rope-tuned drums that are covered with animal skin on the surface. When you hit the center of the drum, you get a deep tone. When you hit the edge of it, you get an attacking tone similar to a snare drum rimshot.
Djembes are meant to be held between your legs to play. You can play them while sitting or standing. If you’ve ever been to a drum circle, you would know the djembes are commonly used for these. They’re also heard very frequently in traditional African music.
Some drum companies produce djembes that aren’t rope-tuned. Instead, they use the lugs you’d typically see on standard drum kits, meaning you tune the drum with the use of a drum key.
Also known as a hand pan, the hang drum was invented fairly recently. It’s a steel pan that has parts that you tap with your fingers to produce specific tones. Every hang has a scale that you can play, meaning it’s not a very versatile instrument. You need many of them if you want to play songs in different keys.
The sound these drums produce is mesmerizing, sounding almost ethereal in nature. To play the drum, you need to rest it in your lap and tap around it to produce the tones. Hang drums are extremely expensive which is why you will mostly just find percussion enthusiasts owning these.
All these different types of drums have rich histories that are well worth looking into. The acoustic drum kit we know today has only been around for about 100 years, whereas the other kinds of drums have been around for thousands. If you’re a drummer who takes a particular interest in percussion, you may just love owning some of these drums.
On the other hand, if you’re a percussionist who loves to collect and play percussion, there are so many different types of drums out there to get your hands on.