Drum - The Oldest Musical Instrument

Djembe African Drums

Drum is the most famous member of the percussion group of musical instruments, and at the same time one of the oldest musical instruments that was ever used by mankind. Initially used by our prehistoric ancestors just as a simple object that were hit by the stick, drums came into their modern form some 7 thousand years ago when the Neolithic cultures from China started discovering new uses for alligator skins. Those first drums had the very same basic structure as all modern drums – a drumhead membrane (often called drum skin) that is stretched over a shell. Striking that membrane by either hand or a stick produced resonating sound that could be carried over large distanced, depending on the size and the shape of the drum.

Use of drums across the world started to spread across Asia, reaching Japan, India, Middle East, Africa and southern Europe by 2nd century BC (most notably African drums that were introduced into ancient Greece and Rome). While use of drums continued to be regular occurrence in Africa, Middle East and Asia, drums never found much success in popular music in Europe between fall of Rome and Renaissance. Return to popularity came only after crusades, when European armies copied the military uses of drums from their enemies, and introduced drums to general European population after return from wars. After that moment, drums became widespread across Europe, with uses both in folklore music and classical orchestras where drum played central rhythm role. Between crusades and the 20th century, drums evolved into hundreds of types and shapes, being used in countless occasions and musical genres.

Drumming Rhythm

Arrival of the 20th century and the organized industrial manufacture enabled first mass produced set of drums, and the switch that will enable musical bands to have only one person operating their entire drum section. This was made possible by the introduction of the foot bass drum pedal by Ludwig Company, and the creation of first drum kits. Popularity of drum kits rose and rose, until Rock music of the 40s and 50s (fueled by jazz and blues genres in 20s and 30s) managed to revolutionize the way we drums were used in popular music. Fueled by the appearance of not only new ways to use drum sets, but also popularization of drummers as legitimate “rock stars”, drums became integral part of any modern pop, rock, metal and jazz band of the second half of 20th century. This remains true even today, although advent of electronic and computer-generated drums has enabled musicians to find new ways of controlling their percussion sections.

Today, thousands of years after their first use, drums remain one of the most integral parts of the modern music and culture.

Drums in Calcuta