The documented history of drums dates back to 6000 BC. Since then, drums have been used in innumerable ways, from ancient religious rituals to primitive communication devices, even as a rallying method for the troops of hundreds of wars. Today you can see them played in a variety of situations from community drum circles to rock concerts. Exploring the history of drums offers a fascinating look into the evolution of man's oldest musical instrument.
The first drums were crudely designed, consisting of a hide stretched taut over a hollow log. Striking them with sticks or animal bones created a sound or tone. These sounds were likely used to communicate between nomadic tribes, both peacefully and aggressively. As civilizations evolved, drums were also used to establish connections with spirits and deities. Aztecs, Egyptians, American Indians, and African tribes all used drums as part of their religious ceremonies.
Historians believe that the first snare and field drums appeared in the 1300's. Drums were believed to inspire the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire, simultaneously intensifying fear in their enemies. The Swiss, English, and Scottish later adopted the snare, renaming it a tabor. Drums can be heard in formal military marches today, though its doubtful you'll see a soldier tapping a snare in the middle of a modern combat zone.
By the 1600's, drums were not only used for celebration, ritual, and warfare. They became widely used by classical composers like Bach and Beethoven. Drums used in orchestral settings included timpani, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, and bass drum, among others.
The modern drum set represents the culmination of drumming history. Its origins are American, though the cymbals, tom-toms, and kick drum all have roots in African and East-Asian cultures. In the late 1800's, as the size of musical ensembles began to shrink, it became necessary to combine the parts of two or three drummers for a single drummer to play, giving birth to the first drum set.
The invention of the snare drum stand and the kick drum pedal furthered the drum set's evolution, allowing a single drummer to use both his hands and feet to create multiple rhythms simultaneously. During the 1930's and 40's, early jazz drummers like Gene Krupa and Jo Jones modernized the drum set through their fiery brands of playing. Throughout the 20th century, drum set hardware was modernized by companies like Ludwig and Slingerland.
For thousands of years, drums have played a unique role in human existence, stirring contact with tribal deities, providing entertainment for communities, and leading soldiers into combat. The rhythm, pulse and flow of daily life are all embodied by the sound of drums. They continue to grow and evolve alongside our civilization, a constant rhythmic reminder of our past as well as our future.
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