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?