Who really invented the drums?
It's difficult to say for sure who came up with the idea of drums, but it is certain that drums were simultaneously being created across different parts of the world. Just like most musical instruments, the drums steadily evolved over countless innovative periods.
Whether you are learning drums for beginners or want to know more about the benefits of learning drums, you may be surprised to learn about the following drum history facts. We guarantee that the next time you get on those drums, you'll be in awe of how ancient drums have evolved into the drum set that we know today.
1. Drums are the world's oldest musical instrument.
Not only are the drums credited with being the oldest musical instrument - they are also said to be the oldest known musical activity. It may be dubious to say that drums were already present at the dawn of humankind, but scientists have found the oldest drums dating as far back as 5500 B.C. in the Neolithic China period - skillfully made using alligator skins!
According to literature, these alligator-skinned drums were used for rituals and ceremonies, as they could manifest the power to influence spirits. Similarly, historic art pieces and iconography from ancient Mesopotamian, Greek, Egyptian and Roman cultures have too, symbolised the use of ancient drums in religious gatherings and ceremonies.
Were there similar traits among drums in the past?
Most ancient drums were primarily made of animal skins and had the same basic structure: a drum membrane (or the skin) being stretched over a shell. These shells had to be solid enough that they wouldn't break from continuous beating, so they were often natural materials such as hollowed tree trunks or mammoth bones.
In terms of the drum shape, you could find round, octagonal and even square-shaped drums which date as far back as ancient Middle Eastern times. Either having one or two heads, these drums usually had snares or jingles attached to the body. Nonetheless, the basic drum design has remained virtually unchanged to this day.
For drum playing, research suggests that both hand drums and drums played with beaters (mallets or drumsticks) evolved around the same time. I suppose that's why we still see a good number of percussionists in the current day beating drums with either their hands or with mallets. No one style is better than the other...
... but you can get your hands on the best drum kits in Malaysia.
2. Drum playing was used for war.
To be fair, this could be one of those drum history facts you'd known about already. But are you familiar with the ways in which drums were used in war?
Well, modern snare drums are used to keep marching band members in pace with each other, and in some military contexts, the same concept is used to train soldiers to march in step. So when we speak of war in medieval and Renaissance Europe, soldiers needed drummers to help them keep in step with others in the army.
Did you know that having to keep in step was a life-or-death situation at the time?
In three-rank firing, for instance, three soldiers would have to get into three different positions and simultaneously place themselves close to each other, to create an effective and more dramatic way of firing at their targets. As these soldiers literally had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, it was important for them to get into accurate positions while still being able to safely fire arms.
Now picture great numbers of soldiers marching forward with these different ranks stretched out. Making sure these soldiers marched with regulated steps, so they could efficiently halt and get into the three-rank firing position, was therefore the role of the drummer. The same role applied when the army needed to manoeuvre, retreat or charge their bayonets as a group.
Imagine if drum beats weren't around to manage such huge numbers of people!
So why did we decide to stop using drums in war?
Well, you could say that technology finally caught up to the military. In fact, drums were only used for almost 4,000 years until modern warfare and communication technology came into the picture. As new technology allowed for clearer communication, leaders and commanders no longer needed ancient drums to conduct successful military operations.
Fortunately, the military use of drums helped to popularise the instrument among general folk, and very quickly, we could see people learning drums as a musical instrument. Individuals, bands and orchestras started playing the drums in every special occasion, concert and gathering.
That brings us to another one of our drum history facts... but first, you may want to check out these awesome drum lessons in Selangor.
3. Many cultures practise drum playing.
Talking about drums, the first image that may come to your mind is the average drum set which consists of the bass drum, snare drum, tom-toms and floor tom. Don't assume this is the most well-known way of drum playing in every country, though: you can find numerous drum types and playing styles that are admired all over the globe.
Generally, drums can be classified into acoustic, electric and world (traditional) drums. We've just talked about the acoustic drums, which look like your usual drum set. The electric drums work just like the acoustic drums but instead of metal cymbals and wood shells, the drum kit has pads made of rubber, plastic or mesh.
The cool thing about world drums is that they greatly reflect the rich history and culture from where they originated. From the traditional Japanese taiko to the African djembe, it would take years to be able to master learning drums of even one type, not to mention the many ways a single type can be played! Don't forget that the benefits of learning drums are plenty.
Let's take a look at some of these examples from our own beloved country:
- The 24 Festive Drums, which originated in Johor, take into account the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunar calendar.
- The kompang, which is often used in Malay weddings to announce the arrival of a married couple, is of Middle Eastern origin and was brought to Malaya some 600 years ago.
- The mridangam, originating from ancient South India, remains the leading accompaniment for Carnatic music and many South Indian classical dance forms.
- The gendang, considered native to Sarawak, is regarded as a sacred instrument and is religiously used to celebrate traditional Sarawakian festivals.
You can see that these world drums are commonly associated with various art forms, too. So you will often find not only drum playing, but also singing, dancing and even poem recitals to go along with the beats of the drums. How exciting!
It's no surprise that percussionists of different backgrounds love to make music in their own distinctive ways, especially when they are aware of the rewarding benefits of playing the drums.
4. More and more people are learning drums.
One reason that a lot of people are getting into the trend of drumming is that learning drums for beginners has never been easier. Think about learning drums online and you can easily find a tutor who could give you virtual lessons.
You can have in-person classes, too. There is always more than one way of learning the drums.
It's never too late to join in on the excitement. And what better way to start than with the best community of tutors in the world?
Did you know that over 1,800 brilliant drum tutors are waiting for you?
Instead of relying on one or two drum tutors in your area, you can gain access to many trained and experienced gurus through the Superprof website. Superprof is a teaching platform that connects passionate tutors to eager learners, just like yourself. And the best thing about this platform is you get to know your tutor before your first lesson.
You can even study drums in the heart of KL.
Simply type in "Drums" into the search bar of the Superprof Tutors website: you'll immediately see the search bar when you visit the page. Notice that you can view all the drum tutors in your area ("Around Me") or look up tutors from around the world ("Online"). Yes, learning drums online with an experienced drum teacher from places like London or Madrid is possible!
Click on any tutor's profile to find out more about them. You now have access to your tutor's background in the subject, their lesson approach, student reviews and others' recommendations. Take this a step further when you sign up with Superprof - that way, you can personally message your tutor to find out more about their teaching style while helping them get to know more about your learning goals.
Tempted to book your first lesson? We're happy to let you know that signing up with Superprof will give you the privilege of getting your first drum lesson for free. Build your own drum history!
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