We take a trip through the history of drums, looking at how it has effected music, people and culture.
Drums have been used as a tool to strike fear into the hearts of enemies for centuries. Indian sacred texts depict a war drum as the “fist of Indra”, who was seen as the King of heaven and a defender deity to Buddhism. The Serer people of West Africa used a drum called the ‘junjung’, and the Chinese have familiar looking drums called ‘zhangu’. But the modern drum kit that we see today has its roots in America.
As waves of immigrants came to America around the late 19th century, they would often bring foreign instruments that was adapted into the culture of American music, and particularly drum sets. The influence of immigration on the drum kit is evident from Chinese tom drum and cymbal, which play quite a significant role in the complete set.
In 1860s America was facing a civil war. During this time, lack of manpower forced the drummers to find ways to play more than one instrument. This resulted in development of double drumming – single person playing snare and bass drums. The pedals were not invented by this time, so drummers used sticks to play both the drums.
History of drums will be incomplete without the mention of Jazz music. The early 1900s saw the rise of the performance drummer. As ragtime declined, performance oriented Jazz was ready to take its place. In 1917, the Dixieland Jazz Band was the first jazz band to make official recordings. The drumming played a major part in the establishing of the jazz genre of music. Later the prohibition of alcohol in US (1920-1933) had served to provide a surprising benefit to that of jazz and drum music. The ‘roaring twenties’ was in part fueled by fascinating music which served as an alternative to alcohol. What some might call a ‘hub’ for this sort of movement, is Chicago, which as one of America’s biggest cities still sees a major influence from jazz music.
‘Zildijian’ cymbals were famous throughout the world. Their secret process of creating metal alloy was discovered by Avedis – I, in Constantinople (early 1600). The family produced cymbals with this secret process for three centuries. Finally in 1929, Avedis – III, who had earlier re-located to US, brought his ‘Zildijian’ cymbal company to America. The company established good relationship with musicians of 1930’s who helped Avedis improve the HiHat.
Officially in the 1930s, swing music was hitting, well, full swing! It is believed coincidental that the first music recordings with hi hats appeared during the time of the stock market crash that led to the great depression. Yet, these hi hats led to an energetic genre of music that uplifted the spirits of American’s through such a tough time in their history.
Swing music, a branching evolution of the jazz genre, was the most popular music in America through 1935 to 1946. This mainstream acceptance led to a major cultural movement which encouraged dancing and good vibes. Benny Goodman with famous drummer Gene Krupa, achieved widespread fame during this era. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were also greatly influenced during this era of music.
World War 2 meant a shift and disruption in the manufacturing industries around the world. In America, kids might have received a gift of an all-wood “war-time” drum set as a reality of this lack of resources. Still drum sets were made for American and British armies. From then on, we see just how powerful of a part the drum kit plays in evolving the sound of American music.
The 1940’s saw bebop, and the 1950’s saw rock and roll, both of which could not have existed without the drums. The 1960’s saw the explosion of arguably one of the biggest musical names in the history of Earth, the Beatles, which, again, could not have been accomplished without the drums.
Since 1980’s electronic drums have also entered the market. With technological advancement, today’s drums produce excellent sound. Electronic drums are today mixed with acoustic drums to produce many sound effects. Many bands have electronic percussionist along with a traditional drummer. With time the drum continues to evolve and enthrall us all!