Types of Drums

Different Types of Drums: A Guide For Novice to Professional Drummers

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

Drumming is a language not discriminated by borders. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different drums and percussion instruments in the world today. In fact, percussion and drums are believed to be some of the oldest musical instruments in the world.

Naming a list off the top of your head will only scratch the surface of the vast collection mankind has devised. Today’s post features a brief overview of the many different types of drums and their respective applications.

For a novice drummer and percussionist, one might believe that the drum set, and the drums therein, are the only main drums around in the world today. While playing the drum set may be the most popular form of drumming in the West, there are so many more instruments one must explore as a percussionist.

The Western Perspective

For most in the West, common percussion for the early and latter parts of the 20th century includes the snare drum, bass drum, timpani, triangle, chimes, xylophone, and many more that we will detail below.

These are instruments that are typically heard in an orchestra, but before diving into orchestral percussion, we must take a look at what might be the most common configuration of drums in the world.

The drum set

Keith Moon Drumming
Keith Moon playing drums in 1974 with The Who

The drum set is also a major component of Western 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.

Keith Moon’s setup with The Who is a bit more complex than your standard five-piece drum setup. In the image above you can see many different sized concert tom drums, cymbals, and even a large gong. Let’s take a look at all the pieces that make up a standard kit.

Drum Set Parts

1) Bass drum

In the above diagram, note the large drum in the middle that sits perpendicular to all the other drums. This drum is known as the bass drum. In this setup, a pedal with a beater is used to produce sound. 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. If you’re new to reading music, stay tuned as we will be posting an informative guide on how to read drum notation.

Simple Rock Groove

2) 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). 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.

3) Snare drum

2006-07-06 snare 14

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.

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, typically played on beats two and four in Western popular music.

4) Rack tom(s)

Generally located above the snare drum, the rack toms are smaller drums mainly used for fills. Rack toms are usually between 8 inches and 13 inches, though there are many exceptions. Rack toms have two drum heads, a batter, and a resonant head. Similar to rack toms are concert toms. These drums have a single top head with no resonant head. Concert toms were much more popular in the 1980s when larger drum sets we’re the thing.

5) The hi-hat

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. 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.

To be continued! Thanks for reading!

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