man with drum sticks over head sitting at a full set of drums

Drums are the backbone of music. The drumbeat is what creates a song’s rhythm, and it’s how musicians keep time with the music. Despite their common use as a rhythmic instrument in bands and orchestras, drums have the capability to create melodic music without accompaniment. Throughout history, drums have proven to be one of the most versatile musical instruments around.

Drum Variations

Drums come in many variations, each producing a different type of sound. Most genres of popular music are produced using an acoustic drum kit, the basic elements of which include a bass drum, snare drum, cymbals and tom-tom drums. While acoustic drums are the most common variation heard and seen in the western world, there are many other types of drums. There are hundreds of styles of drums across the world, but some of the most common include:

  • Conga and bongo drums: Congas and bongos are types of hand drums that originated in Cuba. Congas are rather large, freestanding drums while bongos are their smaller, handheld counterpart.
  • Djembe: Another hand drum, the djembe is native to West Africa. The original djembe drum is a sturdy handheld drum that’s tuned using ropes that are tied taut around the drum’s base and head. Djembe drums are traditionally made of goatskin but may also be synthetic.
  • Steelpan/Steel Drum: Originating in Trinidad and Tobago and popularized in Jamaica, the steel drum features a unique sound that can be described as full and tinny. It’s a large, columnar hand drum that is usually played in slower rhythms. The distinct sound of the steel drum is one of the key elements in reggae and dub music.
  • Tabla: The tabla is a small, wooden hand drum that hails from India. It’s played with the heels of the hands and the fingertips and creates a unique sound that’s rich in vibration. Tabla drums also come in a smaller, metal size that’s called a dagga.
  • Udu: Udu drums are clay-based, hand drums that are popular in Nigeria. The udu drum has a large hole in the top with a smaller hole in the side to amplify its sound. To play this drum, the musician taps the top hole with their palm or fingers.

Drumming in Ancient Times

Drumming dates back to ancient China. Originally, drums were used to send messages. According to The Book of Music, which was written during China’s Sung Dynasty, the drum was a means of communication between the government and China’s people, who would beat a drum when they were displeased with the government’s actions.

Modern Drumming

Today, drums are a prominent feature in all genres of music. Different styles, rhythms and techniques are used to create a variety of different sounds. In popular genres, including rock, country, pop and hip hop, acoustic drums are commonly used in kits of varying sizes. In some cases, though, popular world music features samples of steel drums, bongo or conga drums and djembe drums.

Famous Drummers

Popular and international music have produced many famous drummers throughout history. In Africa, drummers like Leon Mobley and Drissa Kone are known for their djembe drumming skills while Indian drummers Alla Rakha, who played with Ravi Shankar, and Zakir Hussein have helped Indian music to gain international recognition.

In Western World, rock and popular music drummers like John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Questlove (The Roots), Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Ringo Starr (The Beatles) and Danny Carey (Tool) have helped their bandmates to create songs that are considered timeless classics.

The drum is one of the oldest instruments known to man. Whether it’s played on it’s own or as an accompaniment to other instruments, the drum has the capability to create a diverse range of music styles and has lent its sound to the most famous and beloved music around the world.