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 Drums

Drums

(Fr. tambour; Ger. Trommel; It. tamburo; Port., Sp. tambor)

A Membranophone (or occasionally an Idiophone), usually with a resonating cavity, sounded by percussion (more rarely by friction or plucking). It has been made in many varieties and has been known in almost every age and culture.

Most drums are membranophones composed of a skin or skins (or plastic material) stretched over a frame or body-shell of wood, metal, earthenware or bone. Drums are sounded in two ways: percussion, where they are struck with the bare hands or with beaters, or shaken as in the case of rattle drums in India and Tibet; and friction, where the membrane, or a stick or cord in contact with it, is rubbed or the drum is whirled on a cord. Most drums, however, are struck, and may be classified according to the shape of their body-shell as follows: kettledrums, where the body is bowl-shaped; tubular drums, subdivided into those with cylindrical, barrel-shaped, double-conical, hourglass-shaped, conical, spherical or goblet-shaped bodies (the term ‘cylindro-conical’ is used to indicate drums whose sides are parallel for most of their length but taper at one end); and frame drums.

Tubular drums may be further subdivided into those which have a single skin and are open-ended, a single skin and are closed, or a double skin. The membrane in each case may be glued, nailed, pegged, laced or lapped to the body of the drum, or attached by a combination of these methods. In kettledrums and tubular drums the body-shell acts as a resonator.

In many areas, in addition to their use as message drums and rhythm instruments, drums serve numerous sacred or ritual purposes and are credited with magical powers. The drum has been and still is indispensable in many parts of the world, and remains the most compelling and significant of all percussion instruments. In the most ancient civilizations the popularity of drums is established by numerous representations of the instrument in a variety of shapes and sizes in the art of Egypt, Assyria, India and Persia. Membrane drums in the form of the Tympanum, the tambourine and other frame drums were known to the Greeks and Romans, and cylindrical drums were known in South Asia by the 2nd or 1st century BCE. Small kettledrums in pairs (hemispherical or egg-shaped) were being used in Spain by the Moors in the early 8th century.

Non-tunable Western drums

In the standard Western orchestra, membrane drums are either of definite musical pitch (for the most important member of this category, see Timpani), or of indeterminate pitch (the bass, side and tenor drums)

1) Bass drum

(Fr. grosse caisse; Ger. grosse Trommel; It. gran cassa, gran tamburo). The largest of the orchestral drums of indefinite pitch, consisting of a cylindrical shell of wood with two heads (hide or plastic) lapped onto hoops placed over the open ends of the shell and secured by counter-hoops. The heads are tensioned by means of threaded rods which lie across the shell.

In the orchestra the bass drum is normally supported on a stand or suspended in a frame with a swivel attachment so that the drum may be played at any angle the player desires. The mallets are usually large and felt-headed, with sufficient weight to extract the full tone. The orchestral bass drum should have a calfskin head on the playing side; the opposite head should ideally also be of the same material. (But plastic heads are a great asset to the marching band, being unaffected by the vagaries of the weather.) The head is generally struck with a glancing blow midway between the centre and the rim; in a marching band it is struck in the centre, with an audible ‘crack’ that gives the beat to those marching behind. The beater is usually held in the right hand, the left hand is controlling the length of the note where required. With a double-headed drum, the fingers of the right hand ‘still’ the vibrations, while the left hand controls the reverberation of the opposite head. In a succession of short notes, the drum is struck in the centre to minimize the sonority. A tremolo is produced by single beats from hand to hand. The bass drum remained a rarity in Europe until the 18th century when the imitation of the Turkish Janissary bands became fashionable and, on appropriate occasions, in orchestral music. Among the Classical composers Gluck seems to have made the earliest use of the bass drum, in Le cadi dupé (1761). He was followed by Mozart, Haydn and by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony. In musical notation the lowest space on the staff is normally allotted to the bass drum. The bass clef is generally used, though strictly speaking no clef is required for instruments of indeterminate pitch.

2) Side drum [snare drum]

The side drum is so called because the original military instrument was slung from the shoulder and worn at an angle at the player’s side, a position maintained in marching bands

The term snare drum is now more generally used. The instrument consists of a cylindrical shell of wood or metal covered at each end with a head of calfskin or plastic. Side drums of various depths ranging from 10 to 40 cm are used in the orchestra. For normal orchestral purposes the side drum is supported on a stand which is adjustable for height and rake. It is played with wooden drumsticks varying in weight and style according to the choice of the player. The side-drum sticks are held in two ways: the ‘matched’ grip and the ‘traditional’ grip. The foundation of the art of side-drumming remains the ‘roll’, together with numerous fundamental beatings known to the drummer as the ‘rudiments’, e.g. the ‘paradiddle’, and such embellishments as the ‘flam’, ‘drag’ and ‘ruff’. The side drum is prominent in the works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar, Ravel, Nielsen, Shostakovich, Britten and Sessions. Ravel’s novel employment of the instrument in his Bolero (a two-bar phrase played 169 times) is well known, as is Nielsen’s use of the side drum in his Clarinet Concerto (1928), and in his Fifth Symphony (1921–2), in which the player improvises.

3) Tenor drum

(Fr. caisse roulante, caisse sourde; Ger. Rührtrommel, Rolltrommel, Wirbeltrommel; It. cassa rullante)

A cylindrical drum with a head about 40 cm in diameter (somewhat larger than the side drum) and a depth of 40–50 cm. In Britain the tenor drum is without snares, but equivalent instruments in other European countries may be snared or unsnared.

Tonally the tenor drum is midway between the bass drum and unsnared side drum. In the marching band it is slung from the belt or shoulder and supported on the left leg like the regimental side drum. In the orchestra it rests on a similar stand to that used for the side drum. Technically, strokes on the tenor drum are less involved than those employed on the side drum, but they demand the utmost dexterity. Though in principle one of the most ancient and universal of all drums, the true tenor drum as known in military circles made a comparatively late appearance. In England, France and Germany, it first appeared in the military band during the early 19th century.

Berlioz (who contended that the instrument Gluck specified in Iphigénie en Tauride was a tenor drum, or caisse roulante) scored for a tenor drum, tuned to B , in the Grande messe des morts. Wagner wrote for tenor drum (Rührtrommel) in Rienzi, Lohengrin, Die Walküre and Parsifal. Strauss used it in Ein Heldenleben, and Elgar in his third Pomp and Circumstance march. Other composers to write for the tenor drum include Stravinsky, Honegger, Milhaud, Copland and Britten.

In musical notation a single line or a space in the staff (most often the second from the bottom) is allotted to the tenor drum.

Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

"Drums" Teachers:

  • Anna Kokenyessy
  • Christopher Michael
  • Garabet Nerces
  • Ibrahim Jaber
  • Mia Ionica Popescu
  • Szymon Pawel Urbanszyk

Page created at: 02-06-2015

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