History & Culture

Types of Drums: The Ultimate Beginners Guide (With Audio)

Drumming has been around for centuries as a spiritual and cultural practice, with each culture having a unique style, instrument choice, and rhythm. Today you’ll learn about the different types of drums worldwide, from djembes in Africa to bongos in Latin America or tablas in India.

Acoustic Drum Set

The drum set, or drum kit, is a major component of Western popular music, originating from Dixieland in the 1920s. A drum set typically consists of a bass drum, snare drum, tom drums, cymbals, and a hi-hat.

While we have a pretty standard idea of what a drum set looks like today, during its developmental stage, things were a bit different.

Here are the pieces that make up a standard drum kit:

Parts of a Standard Drum Set including kick drum, snare drum, ride cymbal, hi-hat, crash cymbal, rack tom, and floor tom

Bass Drum

In the above diagram, note the large drum in the middle that sits perpendicular to all the other types of drums. This drum is known as the bass drum (also known as the kick drum). In this setup, a foot pedal with a beater is used to produce sound.

By Chocho at French Wikipedia – photo by Chocho, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=234911
Click the play button to hear the sound of the kick drum.

The bass drum encompasses a low-end tone that provides the “bottom” of the beat. When you hear music on a set of speakers, this is the drum you can feel in your chest that provides the pump and bass frequencies.

In a very simple rock drum groove, the bass drum is played on beats one and three.

Snare Drum

The snare drum arguably is the most common drum in Western music. Featured in orchestras, wind ensembles, drum kits in varying genres, as well as marching bands, the snare drum is a medium sized drum that utilizes wire snares (either nylon or steel) fastened to the bottom head of the drum.

2006-07-06 snare 14
Click the play button to hear the sound of the snare drum.

When played, the wire snares give the drum a snappy sound that provides a tight, high-end tone that cuts through many instruments on stage.

The snare drum is the backbone of a groove, provides a loud sound when struck, and is typically played on beats two and four in Western popular music. Snare drums generally either have a tight, cripsy sound or a deep tone.

Floor Tom

The floor tom is generally the second largest piece of the drum kit and is at least 14″ inches in diameter and depth (though there can always be exceptions to the rule).

Floor Tom
Stephan Czuratis (Jazz-face), CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the floor tom.

Being a member of the tom family, the floor tom is used for drum fills as well as grooves. Due to its size, the characteristics of this drum are deep in tone and large-sounding in nature. Many drummers today rely on this drum exclusively as their only tom.

Rack Tom

Generally located above the snare drum, the rack toms are smaller types of drums mainly used for fills. Rack toms are usually between 8 inches and 13 inches, though there are many exceptions.

Rack tom drum
Marco van den Hout, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the rack tom.

Rack toms have two drum heads, a batter (the part you hit with a stick), and a resonant head.

Concert Toms

Similar to rack toms are concert toms. These drums have a single top drum head with no resonant head. Concert toms were much more popular in the 1980s when larger drum sets we’re the thing. I like rack and floor toms with a deep tone, but jazz players tend to tune them up a lot higher.


One standard piece of the modern drum set is the hi-hat. This piece consists of two smaller cymbals that are controlled by a foot-operated pedal.

Click the play button to hear the sound of the hi-hat.

The top cymbal is attached to a rod that moves up and down depending if the foot pedal is depressed or released. These cymbals are absolutely essential to modern rock music.

Crash Cymbal

A crash cymbal is a type of cymbal used in a drum set. It is usually made of brass or bronze and is used to produce a crashing sound. Crash cymbals are often used to add excitement to certain sections of music, accentuate the rhythm of a song, or provide sound effects.

Zildjian Projection Crash Cymbal
Click the play button to hear the sound of the crash cymbal.

They come in various sizes, and the smaller ones are typically used for high-pitched sounds, while the larger ones are used for lower-pitched sounds. Crash cymbals can be played with a drumstick or in pairs with wrist straps

Some drummers use two crash cymbals, one on each side of the drum set, while others use only one. Crash cymbals are an essential part of any drummer’s kit, and they can add a lot of excitement to a performance.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is a vital part of the drum set, and it’s essential for any drummer looking to create a well-rounded sound. The ride cymbal is typically larger than the other cymbals in the set, and it’s usually placed on the right side of the drummer.

Zildjian Ride Cymbal
Mikeh0303 at English Wikipedia. Photo By: Michael H., CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the ride cymbal.

The ride cymbal is struck with a drumstick, and it produces a consistent, sustained sound. This makes it ideal for keeping time and providing a steady beat.

The ride cymbal is also often used for accents and fills, and it can be played at various dynamics. As a result, the ride cymbal is an extremely versatile tool that every drummer should master.

Splash Cymbal

A splash cymbal is a type of cymbal that is used as an accent in a drum set. It is usually the highest-pitched cymbal in the set, and it has a very quick, sharp sound.

Geheimnisträgerin, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the splash cymbal.

Splash cymbals are often used to add interest and variety to a drum beat, and they can be used to accentuate other drums in the set.

When played correctly, splash cymbals can add a great deal of energy and excitement to a drum performance. They are rarer to find in a drum kit these days, but lots of metal and progressive drummers still employ splash cymbals.

China Cymbal

China cymbals are a type of accent cymbal used in drum sets. They are named for their country of origin, China.

China Cymbals
[[:en:User:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]] at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the China cymbal.

China cymbals are typically made from bronze and have a flat, wide shape. They are known for their bright, trashy sound and are often used to add color and texture to a drumbeat.

China cymbals can be played with sticks, mallets, or brushes, and are often used in harder rock music. While China cymbals vary in size and shape, they all share the same distinct sound that makes them an essential part of any drummer’s toolkit.

Electronic Drums

Electronic drums are, quite simply, electronic versions of traditional types of drums. They typically consist of a rubber pad that produces a sound when it is struck, and a trigger that sends a signal to the electronic drum module when it is activated.

Alesis Nitro Max Wide Behind
Alesis Nitro MAX Electronic Drum Set

Electronic drum sets are often used in place of acoustic drums for their convenience and portability, as well as their ability to produce a wider range of sounds.

Electronic drums are also popular with beginner drummers because they can be less expensive than acoustic drums and they are often quieter, making them ideal for practice.

Electronic Drum Pads

If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, you’ve probably seen a drummer playing an electronic drum pad. These devices are played with sticks and consist of a number of zones that trigger different sounds.

Roland SPD-SX
Roland SPD-SX electronic drum pad

Thanks to the advent of digital technology, electronic drums pads now offer realistic sound quality and a variety of features that appeal to both amateur and professional musicians.

Drum Machine

Bryan Pocius from New York, USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of a drum machine.

Drum machines are electronic musical instruments that make it easy to create beats and loops with recorded drum sounds.

Commonly used in genres such as EDM, hip-hop, and dance music, drum machines allow producers to create rhythmic patterns and beats without physically playing drums, making them a widespread tool for music production and live performance.

Some popular drum machines include the Roland TR-808, the Akai MPC series, and the Native Instruments Maschine.

Drum machines have all the typical types of drums from an acoustic drum set: bass drums, snare drums, hi-hats, cymbals, toms, as well as claps, cowbells, and other percussion.

Orchestral Percussion


Best Timpani VST
Click the play button to hear the sound of the timpani.

These large types of drums are often considered the heart of orchestral music, and with good reason. Timpani provide a wide range of sounds, from deep, resonant tones to sharp, cutting accents.

They can be used to create a sense of tension or drama, or to provide a solid foundation for the rest of the orchestra.

In short, timpani are an essential part of any symphony or concerto.

Concert Bass Drum

Also known as “orchestral bass drums,” concert bass drums are usually played with a mallet, and they provide a deep, resonant sound that helps to fill out the lower end of the musical range.

Žiga, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the concert bass drum.

Concert bass drums are generally made from hardwoods like maple or birch, and they typically measure between 28 and 32 inches in diameter.

In addition to their use in orchestral settings, concert bass drums are also often used in marching bands and drum corps. Concert bass drums provide a sense of power and excitement, and they help to keep the rhythm of the band moving forward.

Marching Percussion

Marching percussion is essential out on the field during half time at the game.

Marching Snare Drum

A marching snare drum is a type of drum that is typically used in marching bands. It is typically larger than a regular snare drum and has a higher pitch due to the use of a kevlar drum head.

Marching Snare Drummers
Mrbeastmodeallday, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of marching snare drums.

Marching snare drums are usually played with marching bass drums, which provide the marching band with a steady beat.

The marching snare drum provides the band with accents and helps to keep the tempo. Marching snare drums are typically made of wood or metal. They are also equipped with snares, which are strips of wire that vibrate when the drum is struck, creating a unique sound.

Marching Tenors

Marching tenor drums are a worn set of a combined four to six drums. Tenors are common in DCI bands. Marching tenor drums are usually made of wood or metal.

Man playing marching tenor drums
Click the play button to hear the sound of marching tenor drums.

The marching tenor drum is used to provide the rhythmic foundation for the band.

Marching Bass Drum

The marching bass drum is an essential part of any marching band. It provides the rhythmic foundation for the band, and its unique sound can be heard over long distances. Marching bass drums are typically made of wood, and they have a deep, resonant sound.

picdrops, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of marching bass drums.

They are also large drums, with a diameter of 18-24 inches. This makes them heavier than other types of drums. Marching bass drums are played with a stick called a beater, which has a thick head made of felt or plastic.

The marching bass drum is a versatile instrument, and it can be used for both marching and concert performances.

South American Drums

South American drums come in all shapes and sizes, from the large Surdo drum used in Brazilian Samba bands to the small Cajon drum originating in Peru. But they all have one thing in common: they provide the heartbeat of South American music.


The conga is a type of hand drum that is often associated with Latin American music. The conga can be traced back to Africa, where it was originally used as a ceremonial drum.

Conga Drums
Click the play button to hear the sound of conga drums.

It was brought to the Americas by slaves, and it soon became an integral part of Afro-Cuban culture. Today, the conga is used in a wide variety of music genres, and it continues to be a popular instrument among drummers.


Bongos are a type of hand drum that originated in Cuba. They are typically made from two slightly different-sized drums connected by a bridge, with each drum having its own set of skin heads. The bongos are played by striking the heads with the hands, usually in alternating fashion.

Bongo Drums
Click the play button to hear the sound of bongo drums.

The bongos first gained popularity outside of Cuba in the 1930s, thanks to their inclusion in the music of artists like Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz. In the decades since, they have become a staple of Latin American music and have been used in a wide variety of genres, including jazz, rock, and pop.

Bongos are also frequently used as soloing instruments, providing a unique percussive sound that can add plenty of flavor to any musical performance.


The cajon drum is a percussion instrument that originates from Peru. It is typically made out of wood, and it has a hollowed-out body. The cajon drum is played by sitting on it and striking the front face with the hands.

Cajon Player

The cajon drum has a wide range of sounds that can be produced, depending on how it is played. For example, a soft stroke with the hand will produce a low sound, while a hard stroke will produce a high sound. The cajon drum can be used to play many different styles of music, including Latin, rock, and jazz.


The timbales are a small set of drums played with sticks. They’re typically made of wood or metal, and have a cylindrical shape.

Click the play button to hear the sound of timbale drums.

Timbales can be played on their own, accompanying other percussion instruments, or as part of a drum set. They can be played either solo or in ensemble.

When played solo, timbales typically provide the rhythm section for the band. When played in ensemble, timbales often play off each other, creating a complex and dynamic sound.


A pandeiro is a Brazilian percussion instrument that’s a type of tambourine. It is usually played with the hands, and has a distinctive sound that is often used in Samba music. The pandeiro is thought to have originated in Africa, and was brought to Brazil by slaves.

Click the play button to hear the sound of the Pandeiro.

Today, it is one of the most popular instruments in Brazilian music, and is widely used in both traditional and contemporary styles.

Tassa Drum

A tassa drum is a percussion instrument used in Trinidad and Tobago. It is traditionally made from a hollowed-out log, though modern types of tassa drums may also be made from metal or plastic.

The drum is played with two sticks, and its distinctive sound is created by the interplay of the sticks and the drumhead.

Tassa Drummers playing outside
Chrisbal, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Click the play button to hear the sound of the Tassa drum.

Tassa drums are used in a variety of settings, including folk music, calypso, and soca. They are also popular at carnivals and other celebrations.

Though they are commonly associated with Trinidad and Tobago, tassa drums can be found in other parts of the Caribbean as well.

Middle-Eastern Drums

Drums have been used in the Middle East for centuries, both for music and for communication. Today, they continue to play an important role in the region’s music and culture. There are many different types of drums used in the Middle East, each with its own unique sound.


A bendir is a type of frame drum that is native to North Africa and the Middle East. It is constructed from a circular wood frame with Animal skin stretched across one side.

The other side of the instrument is open, allowing the player to produce a range of different sounds by striking the skin with their hands or a mallet. The bendir is often used as an accompaniment to traditional dances and ceremonies, and its distinctive sound can be heard in a variety of popular music styles.


A Darbuka is a type of percussion instrument used in many different styles of music, from traditional Arabic music to modern pop and rock.

It most commonly consists of a large, open-ended drum with two skins stretched over the top. The performer strikes the skin with their hands or sticks, resulting in a rich, resonant sound.

The Darbuka can also be played with various techniques, such as rolls and flams, to produce different effects. While it is often used as a solo instrument, the Darbuka also works well in an ensemble setting, providing a powerful rhythmic foundation for other instruments.

Whether you are a seasoned musician or a complete beginner, the Darbuka is a great choice for anyone interested in exploring the world of percussion.

African Drums


A Djembe is a type of hand drum that is native to the countries of Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. It is usually made from a single piece of wood, and its circular shape gives it a distinctive appearance.

The Djembe has a rich history, and it was traditionally used as a means of communication. In recent years, however, the Djembe has become increasingly popular as a musical instrument.

Djembe drum origins

Dundun (Talking Drum)

The talking drum, also known as the dundun, is a type of drum that is commonly used in West Africa. The drum is usually played with two sticks, and the player uses one stick to strike the drumhead while the other stick is used to produce a variety of different sounds by hitting the side of the drum.

Yoruba drummers playing an omele ako, bata, and a dun dun.

The talking drum is often used to communicate over long distances, as the different sounds produced by the drum can mimic the tones and rhythms of speech. In addition, the talking drum can be used to convey emotion and create a sense of beat and meter in music. As such, it is an essential instrument in many traditional African musical styles.


A bata drum is a type of African percussion instrument made from two connected drums of different sizes. The smaller drum, called the itotele, is worn around the waist, while the larger drum, called the iya, is held in the hand.

Bata drums are traditionally used in Cuban music, and they are often used in ensembles of three or more drums. The distinct sound of the bata drums is created by striking the iyas with sticks while simultaneously rubbing the itoteles with spiral-shaped rods.

The bata drums are said to represent the two heartbeats of a mother and child, and they are believed to have magical properties. Legend has it that the bata drums were once used to summon spirits, and they are still used in religious ceremonies today. Whether you believe in their magical powers or not, there’s no denying that the bata drums add an exciting and unique flavor to Cuban music.


A Bougarabou is a large, African drum that is traditionally used to provide the beat for dancing. It is usually made out of a hollowed-out tree trunk, and can measure up to six feet in length. The drum is typically decorated with colorful cloth and beads, and is played with two sticks.

The sound of the Bougarabou is said to be very powerful, and it can be heard from a great distance away. dancers often use the drum to create a hypnotic rhythm that they can follow as they move. The Bougarabou is an integral part of many African cultures, and is known for its ability to bring people together.

European Drums

European drums are distinctly different from their African counterparts. For one, they’re usually much smaller. This makes them easier to transport and store, which was a major advantage for early European settlers.

But don’t let their size fool you – European drums can pack a punch. They’re also known for their high-pitched sound, which can cut through the din of battle or party. So whether you’re looking to make some noise or just wanting to add a bit of flavor to your music, European drums are a great option.


A bodhran is a traditional Irish frame drum that is often used in folk music. It is usually made of wood or hide, and it has a distinctive, hollow sound. The bodhran is played with a stick or beater, and it can be used to keep time or to provide a rhythm for dances.

Frame drums, like the bodhran, are a type of percussion instrument that consists of a drumhead stretched over a round wooden frame, and they are often played by hand.

Bodhrans come in various sizes, and they are often decorated with Celtic designs. While the bodhran is most commonly associated with Ireland, it is also popular in other parts of the world, including Scotland, England, and the United States.


A Tabor is a type of drum that is often used in marching bands. It is a relatively small drum, and it is usually played with one hand. The other hand is used to hold a stick, which is used to strike the drumhead. The sound of the Tabor is very distinctive, and it can be quite loud. When played in a marching band, the Tabor helps to set the tempo and keep the band moving forward.

It is also often used in folk music, and it can add a lot of energy to a performance. If you’ve ever heard a marching band or folk group playing, chances are you’ve heard a Tabor being played. So next time you hear one, you’ll know exactly what it is.


A Batih drum is a traditional African drum that is made out of a hollowed-out tree trunk. The tree trunk is usually fitted with a skin, which is then tightened with ropes or cords. The drum is played with sticks, and the sound it produces is said to be similar to that of a heartbeat.

Batih drums are typically used for ceremonial purposes, such as in weddings or funerals. They are also sometimes used in healing rituals.

Indian Drums

Indian drums are some of the most versatile instruments in the world. They can be used for everything from traditional ceremonies to contemporary pop music. There are many different types of Indian drums, each with its own unique sound.

The most common type of Indian drum is the tabla, which is a pair of small drums played with the hands. Other popular types of Indian drums include the dholak, the mridangam, and the kanjira. No matter what type of music you’re playing, there’s an Indian drum that’s perfect for it.


The tabla is a popular percussion instrument used in Hindustani classical music and ghazals. It consists of a pair of small drums, which are played with the hands. The right-hand drum, known as the dayan or bayan, is larger and lower-pitched, while the left-hand drum, known as the tabla, is smaller and higher-pitched. The tabla is traditionally made from teak wood, camel skin, and goat hair.

The dayan is played with the right hand, while the tabla is played with the left hand. The player uses a variety of strokes to produce different sounds, which are then combined to create complex rhythms. The tabla is an essential part of Hindustani classical music, and it has also gained popularity in Western pop and jazz music.


The Mridangam is a percussion instrument from India that has been used for centuries in classical Carnatic music. Also known as the “South Indian drum”, it is one of the most important instruments in the Carnatic repertoire. The Mridangam is traditionally made from jackwood, and consists of two drums – the right drum (the smaller of the two), and the left drum (the larger of the two). The right drum is tuned to a high pitch, while the left drum is tuned to a lower pitch. Together, these two drums create a distinctive sound that is essential to Carnatic music.

The Mridangam is played with both hands, using a variety of specialized strokes. The most common stroke is known as the “thumb stroke”, which is produced by striking the edge of the drum with the thumb. This stroke produces a high-pitched sound that is essential for keeping time in Carnatic music. Other strokes include the “index stroke” (produced by striking the drum with the index finger), the “middle stroke” (produced by striking the drum with the middle finger), and the “ring stroke” (produced by striking the drum with the ring finger). These different strokes produce different sounds.

Japanese Percussion Instruments

Japan’s percussion heritage spans centuries and is vital to its musical culture. The taiko drum – constructed from hollowed-out tree trunks and struck with wooden sticks – has become one of the country’s most iconic instruments.

In contrast, others, such as tsuzumi hand drums or shime-daikos, add other traditional flavors to music performances. However, forward-thinking contemporary Japanese percussionists also incorporate electronic elements into their sounds alongside experimental playing techniques; this fusion creates an ever-evolving sonic landscape in Japan today.


A taiko drum is a Japanese drum that is often used in traditional music. Taiko drums are typically made of wood, and they have a distinct circular shape. The size of a taiko drum can vary, but they are usually large enough that two people are needed to play them.

History of Taiko Drumming

Taiko drums are played with two wooden sticks, and they produce a deep, resonant sound. Taiko drums are used in a variety of settings, including traditional Japanese festivals and ceremonies. In recent years, taiko drums have become increasingly popular outside of Japan, and they are now used in a wide range of musical styles.

Chinese Percussion Instruments

Chinese percussion has been an integral part of the culture for centuries. From resounding, reverberating gongs to low-pitched drums and high-pitched flutes with built-in percussion elements, various instruments create vibrant sounds that captivate audiences. Today’s innovative and talented performers combine traditional forms with modern technology to produce remarkable percussive compositions for festivals and celebrations like lion dance drumming rituals.


A Tanggu drum is a type of percussion instrument that originated in China. It is made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, and usually has two heads that are struck with sticks. The Tanggu drum produces a deep, resonant sound that is perfect for creating a festive atmosphere. In addition to being used in traditional Chinese music, the Tanggu drum has also been featured in Western pop songs and movies. Given its unique sound and cultural significance, the Tanggu drum is an instrument that is sure to bring joy to any gathering.

What Types of Drums are Considered to be the Oldest in History?

The frame drum is one of the oldest instruments in history, tracing its roots back to ancient cultures. Crafted from animal hide stretched over a wooden frame and struck with hands or sticks, these drums have served different purposes for thousands of years – ranging from festive music-making to spiritual rituals. Today they remain popular amongst professional percussionists and everyday musicians who appreciate their simple design and captivating soundscape.


Drumming is one of the oldest and most primal forms of human expression. There’s something about the beat that just makes people want to move, groove, and dance. From Africa to Asia, from South America to Europe, there are all sorts of drums used in all sorts of music styles.

Did we miss your favorite instrument? Leave a comment down below and let us know. And don’t forget to share this post with your friends – the more people who appreciate percussion instruments, the better!

Nick Cesarz

Nick is a drummer, percussionist, and blogger from Milwaukee, WI. He toured extensively with Vinyl Theatre, opening up for acts like twenty one pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and more. Now no longer touring, his passion lies in gear and playing the kit as much as time allows.

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