Types of Drums Around the World: Names & Music

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you have a favorite rock song with a drum solo? What kind of drum is it played on? In this lesson, explore drums from around the world and learn how they're used in music.

Percussion Instruments and Drums

We all like a good beat in music. It helps keep energy going and provides rhythm for dancing. Percussion instruments are particularly important when creating beats and rhythms. When someone hits, shakes, strikes with a stick, or scrapes a percussion instrument, it makes a sound. Creating sounds in this way is one of the world's oldest forms of nonvocal music. Among percussion instruments, some of the most popular are drums, hollow forms with playing surfaces of stretched skin or hide. You've probably heard drums in rock and pop songs.

Drums come in many shapes and forms. Hand-drums are played with the fingers or hands. Frame drums are made of skins stretched across a thin, round, wooden frame. A tambourine is an example of a frame drum. Other drums are struck with mallets or drumsticks to produce a sound.

Drums have been used for thousands of years by people all over the world. We can't begin to cover them all, but let's look at a few examples from different parts of the world.

Types of Drums Around the World

The Djembe

Africa is a place with a rich drumming history. The djembe , a hand-drum from West Africa, traces back to around 500 AD. The djembe is goblet-shaped and made of hardwood with a playing surface on top made from animal skin. It it traditionally used for healing ceremonies, warrior rituals, and as an accompaniment to traditional music and chants. Musicians beat rhythms on the djembe to accompany singers, or they play them without other instrumental or vocal accompaniment.

Djembe drums

The Tabla

Cultures in India have played drums for thousands of years. One kind of Indian drum is the tabla, another kind of hand-drum played with the hands and fingertips. A performer sits to play the tabla, which is actually a pair of drums, including a large drum called a bayan that provides the bass tones, and a smaller drum called a dayan or dahina that can be tuned to be higher or lower in pitch. Both tabla drums are squat with rounded bodies and playing heads made of double goat skins. On the playing surface is a black round patch made of iron and rice paste. The player strikes the patch to give the tabla its distinctive sound. Tablas are used in Indian classical music, where each drum is played with a different sometimes complex rhythm.

Tabla drums

The Tanggu

China also has a very long history of using percussion in music, Chinese cultures have many kinds of drums and other percussion that play together in percussion ensembles of more than 10 people. Ceremonial groups also exist to play drums in parades and during certain holidays. In general, Chinese drumming tends to be a group activity. One type of Chinese drum is called a tanggu. It's a large tubular barrel drum with two heads. The player strikes the playing heads with two mallets to make sounds. Known as a ceremonial drum, the tanggu is often painted a bright red color. In addition to being used in percussion ensembles, the tongue is used in Chinese opera orchestras, Hindu and Buddhist temple ensembles, and for festive processional bands.

Tanggu drums

The Bodhran

The Bodhran is a good example of a frame drum. It's an Irish/Celtic drum with possible ancient roots in Africa or Spain. The bodhran is made of hide stretched over a thin, circular, wooden frame. It can be played with the hand or with a wooden stick called a tipper. One hand hits the drum and the other rests under the skin surface, pressing on the hide to change the quality of the sound. You'll often hear the bodhran used in ensembles that play traditional Irish music, sometimes in combination with flutes and strings like fiddles.

Person playing a bodhran

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