In today’s post, we’ll dive into the history of drums and percussion. You’ll discover where percussion came from and who were the first people to play drums. Additionally, you’ll learn who invented the drum set and some more fascinating facts.
Percussion is a part of people’s lives, whether they’re musicians or not. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t show a physical response to a captivating rhythm. They may tap their fingers or feet, clap their hands, or even dance! That may happen because we need music as much as we need water and food. Rhythm is in our DNAs, and that’s primarily because of our ancient connection to percussion.
But what are some fascinating facts about percussion?
For one, the first percussionists in history were women. They were a crucial part of early civilizations’ music and society until religion got in the way. Another fascinating fact is that several peoples of Africa used percussive instruments to communicate over long distances. Specific drums were used to mimic the human voice.
What is the history of percussion?
The history of percussion and the history of civilizations walk hand in hand. Across the globe and throughout the ages, people have used percussion to accompany chants and other diverse instruments. Percussion is most likely the oldest type of instrument, passed on from continent to continent as humans explored new territory.
Even before that, during prehistory, humans used musical and percussive instruments. They used sticks, bones, and other natural materials to generate sound. As humanity evolved, Chinese people from the Neolithic era started developing drums. The Frame Drum, a type of tambourine, became extremely important for ancient civilizations. As these instruments fell into new hands, they started getting bigger and generating different sounds. Around 3000 BCE came the cymbals. They were developed in Asia and used mainly for religious rituals and houses of worship.
In Africa, many kinds of drums were used as a means of communication and, with time, became widespread throughout Greece and Rome. With the Crusades, these drums from Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East finally entered Europe.
The Medieval era saw the expansion of these percussive instruments, as they became similar to what we know today. Around 1600 CE, the European military adopted drums like snares, tabors, and timbrels. By this time, the Europeans had already invaded the Americas and taken such instruments with them. During the Turkish Wars, in the 17th century, cymbals were popularized in Europe. Composers of the time took advantage of it, as did the military. In the 1800s, the Bongos started showing up in Cuba, and orchestras incorporated more percussive instruments. By the end of that century, foot pedals that could hit drums emerged.
The early 1900s brought a rapid development in drum technology, as recorded music came on board and new necessities started showing up. Silent movies used live drummers performing foley sounds with instruments made by the Ludwig Drum company. The same company invented the bass drum pedal in 1909. Early musical styles borrowed heavily from military percussion techniques, which were soon were reinvented by creative musicians.
Each different region of the world took the concept of percussion and gave it its flavor. Meanwhile, pop music helped different percussive styles spread and be incorporated across the globe by other cultures.
The early 1980s brought the popularization of the digital drum machine, which is still in use today. But even so, musicians never subdued the importance of percussion. Its almost supernatural power makes drumming an essential part of music and life. Playing percussion lifts the human spirit, and researchers have proven it to benefit our health.
Are drums the oldest instrument?
The oldest known instrument is a flute dating back 60.000 years. However, rhythm is essential to music, so it’s probable that humans also used improvised percussive instruments during the same period. These instruments were very likely made from natural objects and hold little resemblance to what we now know as drums.
Who invented the drums?
Historians believe Mesopotamians invented the drums, with the first known depictions of Frame Drums going back to 5600 BCE. The first drum manufacturers are believed to be the Chinese, who developed an alligator-skin drumhead. Their design went out to be copied by nearby regions and spread across the world later.
What is the oldest percussion instrument?
The earliest known example of a percussive instrument is a set of mammoth bones. Archaeologists found it in Ukraine and believe it dates back to around 20.000 BCE. However, The oldest drums were discovered in the region corresponding to Mesopotamia. They were simple Frame Drums played in temples.
When was the first percussion instrument made?
Around the year 6000 BCE, the first instruments designed and made for percussive reasons emerged. But before that, people improvised with anything that made a sound. Just like we still clap our hands and tap our pencils on the desk, humans before the earliest civilizations already felt the need to express themselves musically.
Who was the first person to play the drums?
The first named drummer in history was Lipushiau, a spiritual leader in Mesopotamia. She played the Frame Drums, and it’s known that Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman percussionists were mainly women. But, as Christianity swept the world, in 576 CE, the Catholic Church prohibited Christian daughters from learning music.
This move by the Catholic Church echoes to this day, as women struggle to find the same prominence as men in the music business. Even so, Lipushiau was not the first person to ever play the drums. She is simply the only one whose name survived to this day. She was a drummer at the Ekisnugal, a temple in Ur, around 2300 BCE.
Where did the drums originally come from?
Historians accept that the first drums came from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The Crusades took them to Europe circa 1200 CE, and during the medieval era, the Europeans redesigned the instruments. Around 1500 CE, the slave trade took African drums to the Americas, which soon generated new instruments.
How were drums used in early civilizations?
Originally, percussion was used for rituals and religious ceremonies to create trance-like states. Later, it was also used for communications and to accompany other musical instruments. Armies the world over used percussion in war and marching bands, which evolved into the different musical styles we know today.
Even now, society uses percussion for various reasons. From meditation rooms to pop music and street parades, the rhythms played on these instruments are essential to our lives. As a result, percussion is one of many undeniable reasons behind music’s mood-altering effects.
When were drums first used for communication?
African and Sri Lanka people first used Drums for communication around 1000 – 500 BCE. They could use it for sending messages between distant places and for poetic and dance reasons at formal events. In medieval and renaissance Europe, the military used snare drums to send coded messages to soldiers.
Talking Drums originated in Ghana and Nigeria and later spread across the globe. People in tropical America, Africa, and New Guinea used drum telegraphy to communicate when European expeditions came ashore. Besides, players can change the pitch of each drum hit to simulate the human prosody. While this is not technically a language, it is considered a means of communication.
Is drumming good for the brain?
Drumming is good for your brain because it can improve the neuronal design of cortical motor areas. Furthermore, focusing on the rhythm also helps to calm the mind, inducing relaxation and reducing stress. Your creativity gets a positive boost from drumming, too, due to increased brainwave synchronization.
Playing the drums also improves your mental health since it is an excellent tool for treating depression. It helps you develop problem-solving abilities and makes your immune system stronger. In a nutshell, drumming is not only good for your brain. It is fantastic for your entire body and quality of life.
What’s The Difference Between Drums and Percussions?
Drums are usually gathered and played in a set. It includes at least a Kick Drum, a Snare Drum, Cymbals, and Toms. On the other hand, percussion instruments are a category that includes drums, but also all kinds of instruments that produce sound by being shaken, beaten, or scrapped. This includes Bongos, Congas, Maracas, etc.
This difference is apparent nowadays, especially in musical groups that have both a drummer and a percussionist. The drummer is responsible for keeping the band tight with the tempo, while the percussionist is allowed more freedom to add effects and help emphasize the rhythm and emotion. With the advent of multitrack recording, in the last 60 years, some drummers have received credits for playing drums and percussion in the same song. That means they recorded their main part, most likely on the drums, to give the song the tempo and feel. Later, they overdubbed and mixed percussive instruments with the drums. This technique helps create contrast between different parts of a song, which makes it more interesting.
How many different types of drums are there?
Different cultures have different approaches to drums. There are at least four kinds of drums: Drum Sets, Hand Drums, African Drums, and Frame Drums. Each group consists of several instruments from different cultural backgrounds. Moreover, there are Marching and Orchestra drums, which use instruments similar to the other groups.
- Frame Drums are ubiquitous throughout the world, with different names and slight variations. The most common are the Tambourine, Pandeiro, Bodhran, Riq, and the Tar. In short, they have a circular frame with a beating skin. Some versions also contain small cymbals on the sides, which produce a characteristic sound when shaken.
- Hand Drums‘ origins come heavily from their cultural backgrounds. Some hand drums are the Tabla, the Bongos, Congas, Tonbak, Tambora, and the Doumbek. These examples appear in India, South America, and the Middle East. You can also play some hand drums with sticks to generate interesting effects, but they were designed for hand percussion.
- African Drums are also considered hand drums, but their specificity and number make them a group of their own. The Djembe, Udu, Talking Drum, Bougarabou, Jungjung, and Ashiko are a few African Drums examples. African music intertwines with social and cultural contexts, and rhythm plays a significant part in representing life’s essence.
- Drum Sets can be either acoustic, electronic, or computer-generated. They’re usually played with sticks or brushes and made of a kick drum, a snare, high- and low-pitched tom-toms, cymbals, and a hi-hat. Drummers can also choose to have multiple sets of any of these parts, with the most common addition being extra cymbals and a second bass drum. Musicians use drum sets across all commercial musical styles worldwide, although you’ll also find some versions of them in orchestras.
- Marching Drums are the predecessors of the drum set. Military marching bands use side drums, which became snares; bass drums, which became kick drums, etc. Other marching percussions are the Multi-Tenor, the Marimba, Xylophone, and Timpani. Marching band percussion is often spread out, and the same instrument can appear several times, depending on the number of people in the band.
- Orchestral Drums can encompass any of the other groups mentioned above. Depending on the piece of music, composers and arrangers will ask for different instruments. Some differences, though, are the sizes of orchestral drums. A concert bass drum, for example, can reach up to 45 inches in diameter. That’s double the size of a regular bass drum and serves the purpose of adding color to the arrangement.
How important are drums to a song?
Drums are essential for songs, especially in modern-day music, to keep the tempo and encourage dancing. Percussive instruments can energize a song’s performance with rhythm. Some musical styles require a simple backbeat, while others need more complex patterns. Whatever the case, drums give life to music, emphasizing dynamics.
Who invented the drum set?
Jazz drummers from New Orleans put together the drum set as we know it today around 1917. It consisted of a bass drum and a snare, with percussive additions called “traps.” One could have a set of woodblocks or cowbells on their drums. Some drummers even had cymbals. As Jazz evolved, so did the drum kit and its parts.
It wasn’t long before musicians equipped drums with tom-toms and larger cymbals, which provided the drummer more flexibility. Jazz, Be-Bop, and Rhythm & Blues all contributed to the evolution of the basic drum kit. When Rock & Roll came along, the drum set was straightforward because the genre emerged from Rockabilly, but it gradually expanded. The playing style also changed with each new genre, so drummers adapted their instruments to the new requirements. Genres like Heavy Metal and all its sub-niches made drummers expand their sets into extremes to keep up with the complex arrangements.
Percussion has had a remarkable history so far, with defining moments that impacted how the entire world reacts to rhythms. After their invention and early development, the Crusades had an enormous impact on how they spread across the globe. With all these different cultures exploring the sounds of percussion, various instruments and musical styles emerged.
After centuries, the recording industry became responsible for yet again another massive worldwide diffusion of percussive styles. For years now, South American rhythms have influenced European artists in a similar way that North American versions of African rhythms created several musical genres.
For good or bad, percussion history blends with the most critical moments of ancient civilizations. In the present, we can only wonder what will be the future of percussion and, thus, the future of music.
Pedro Nascente is an artist, record producer, and mix engineer, currently operating his own studio and working with his band, Yellow Boulevard. Believing that music should convey experiences and feelings, Pedro is known for applying design thinking to his workflow to achieve different sounds and deliver the right messages.