Drumming All Over the World: How Drums are Used in Other Cultures

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Drums are part of the percussion family of instruments, and at their most basic, they are a membrane stretched thin over a hollow shell that produces a sound when they are struck.  However, they are so much more than just something to make a sound.  Drum manufacturing has become big businesses because customers all over the world use drums in a variety of ways depending on their respective culture.  From the more familiar types of drumming on a trap set used in most Western popular music to the hand drums of the Afro Cuban tradition of music to the lesser known drums of Asia, they all make unique sounds that are used for many different reasons.

Ritualistic Drumming:

Drumming is known to date back thousands of years with drums made of alligator skins having been found in China.  Drums throughout history have been documented as being used in many of the ritual ceremonies of cultures both ancient and present.

One instance of shamanistic ritual drumming would be the ceremonial dancing of Native Americans where the drums created beats they chanted and danced. European settlers sometimes mistook these for “war drums.”

Similarly, many cultures in Africa use different percussion instruments in their ceremonies and accent the rhythms with noises they make that are highly rhythmic in nature.

The Japanese use Taiko drums to beat out rhythms that accompany everything from theatrical productions to communicating during battles.  Clearly, there are many ways in which drumming was originally used in older cultures.

Ritualistic Drumming

Afro-Cuban Drumming:

Afro-Cuban percussion is one of the most interesting types of drumming. It not only uses a traditional skin over shell style but because of the way in which the head is placed on the shell, percussionists can change the tones by applying pressure to different areas of the instrument or the head.

Another type of drum used for this style of percussion is the steel drum, which is typically made of metal barrels that have been hammered thin to produce all the different notes in an octave.  Probably the most familiar of these types of drums are congas and bongos.  Both of these usually come as a pair and are played with your bare hand or fingers. By pressing down on the head of the drum, you can fluctuate the pitch and timbre of the sound produced.

Other types of Afro Cuban drums are the djembe, which is two cones inverted with the narrowest parts meeting in the middle and with the head being stretched and laced tightly over the shell.  Generally, you play the djembe with it positioned between your knees and press down on the lacing with your knees to adjust the sound.  Another instrument in this category is the African talking drum, which is a staple of West African music.  Built similarly to a djembe, it is used to mimic the sounds of communication and is used to send messages over long distances.  

Drumming in Popular Music:

Most current popular music feature drums that are common in a traditional drum kit.  A basic kit is comprised of a snare, a bass drum with a couple toms mounted on top of it, and a floor tom complemented by a variety of cymbals.  Mostly these are used to help keep time with the bass player in a musical group. Together they are considered the backbone of a band.  Some drummers even go as far as mounting dozens of other types of percussion equipment to a cage set up around their set so that they can have a vast assortment of sounds available to create intricate rhythms.

Drumming has a long and varied history of how it has been used in different cultures.  No matter what these uses are, they are an important part of many cultures and will continue to be.  Whether drummers are playing as part of a ritual or are simply playing for the enjoyment of keeping the beat and playing in a band, there will always be drums made for every aspect of percussion.

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