The world of percussion is incredibly vast when you look beyond the standard Western instruments. There are so many different types of drums to learn about, and all of them offer wildly different tones, textures, and voices.
If you’re just getting into drumming and rhythmic instruments, you may be wondering what everything is called and how they all sound.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on different types of drums that you can find.
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Acoustic Drum Kit
Acoustic drum kits are mainly what people think about when they hear the term drums. These are large setups that include a mixture of drum shells, cymbals, and hardware.
The drum shells are called the snare, toms, and bass drum. The cymbals are called the hi-hat, ride, crash, splash, china, and effects cymbals.
All drum kits are slightly different, and the setups always depend on what the preferences of the drummer are. Some drummers like to use ten cymbals, while others prefer to only use two.
It’s the same with the drum shells. Some drummers only have a floor tom, while others have several rack toms.
Acoustic drums offer various tonal qualities that depend on what materials they’re made from. Common woods used are maple, poplar, birch, and mahogany.
The overall sound of the kit is also affected by the cymbals that surround it. Cheap cymbals have strong potential to make an expensive kit sound bad, while expensive cymbals can make a cheap kit sound surprisingly good.
Electronic Drum Kit
Electronic drum kits are designed to resemble acoustic kits, but their main purpose is to be a lot quieter. Acoustic kits are incredibly loud, making it inconvenient for many drummers to practice.
With an electronic kit, you can plug in a set of headphones and play drums for hours without anyone hearing what you’re doing.
These kits are designed with rubber or mesh pads that connect to a drum module. The pads have built-in triggers, and these send signals to the module to activate prompts. You can then choose different drum kit sounds on the module that get activated by those triggers.
Most electronic drum kits are a lot smaller than acoustic kits, making them ideal to keep in bedrooms and living rooms with limited space. You also need an amplifier to allow other people to hear what is being played.
The sound quality of an electronic drum kit depends on how expensive it is. Higher-priced kits are made with better technology, so they have superior playability.
A conga is a tall drum that originates from Cuba. Percussionists will typically use more than one conga, with some using two and others using several in a setup.
They have long shells with depths of around 30”. The deep shells give them low-pitched tones, so congas are usually associated with bass sounds.
Congas are divided into three categories, depending on their size. A quinto is the smallest and highest-pitched conga, tres dos and tres golpes have a medium size, and a tumba is the largest and deepest-sounding of the three.
Congas are regularly used in jazz and Latin music, but you’ll sometimes hear them being used in orchestral percussion sections as well.
They’re quite easy to learn to play at first, but there is a whole range of traditional rhythms and playing techniques that you can get into after that.
Bongos are a close relative to congas. They also originate from Cuba, and they’re often played in the same styles of music.
It’s very common to see a percussion setup that has a pair of bongos placed in front of a set of congas.
Bongos are much smaller, and they produce high-pitched and tight sounds. They always come in pairs, and each drum is connected by a bridging block. The large drum is called the hembra and the smaller one is known as the macho.
Bongos are one of the most popular hand percussion instruments in the world. Everyone knows about them, mainly due to their affordable price tags and low barrier to entry regarding playing techniques.
You mostly play bongos with just your fingers. You can hit the center of each drum to get a rounder sound, while striking the edge gives you a lot more attack.
Since bongos are so small, they’re great percussive instruments to take on the road. They’re also a favorite for people that join drum circles.
The djembe is a type of goblet drum that comes from West Africa. Most djembes have animal skin surfaces that have been tied to the drum with ropes. You tighten these ropes to tune the drum to get different sounds.
However, there are other djembes available that share the modern design that acoustic drum shells have. They have tension rods and lugs that you can use in conjunction with a drum key for tuning. The heads on those types of djembes are synthetic.
Djembes produce different sounds that depend on how large their goblet bodies are. The bigger ones produce deep and warm tones, while the smaller ones produce high-pitched and tight tones.
When you strike the center of a djembe, you get a deep sound that resembles the tone you get from a bass drum. When you strike the edge using your fingers, you get a tight and aggressive sound that resembles a snare drum rimshot.
Djembes are surprisingly versatile in the dynamics that they offer. A pro djembe player can create a range of sounds using a combination of soft and hard hand and finger strokes.
Tabla is a pair of drums that originate from India. These drums are an important part of Indian culture, and they’re mostly used in various types of Indian music.
They look similar to bongos, but they have far more complex designs and structures. The two drums are called a dayan and bayan, and each one has three layers on the surface that produce different sounds.
You play tabla by using your palms and fingers to strike the different surfaces, and most people like to sit on the floor while playing these drums.
They also lean slightly away from you so that you can lean your hands over them for the correct playing position.
A cajon is also known as a box drum. It’s a large box that you sit on and play with your hands. There’s a piece of wood attached to the front that you strike.
The edges of the wood have metal pieces built in so that you get a slapping sound when you strike that area. When you strike the cajon in the center, you get a lower-pitched sound that resembles a bass drum note.
Some percussionists like to get uniquely designed cajon pedals so that they can play the center with their foot and have two hands to play the edge. They’ll then use a free hand to play other percussion instruments like shakers or tambourines.
Cajons are typically used in environments where drum kits would be too loud. The rhythms you play on a cajon typically resemble beats and fills that you would play on a drum set.
A tambourine is a loose addition to this list, as some act as drums while others simply act as shakers. The hand drum version of a tambourine has a membrane spread across the frame.
There are groups of jingles on the outside of the frame, and then the membrane is there so that you can strike it with your hand.
You get a low to medium tone from striking it, while the jingles offer high-pitched and shrill sounds.
Tambourines are regularly used in both percussion and drum kit setups. They’re a staple instrument in popular music, as the jingles are often used to fill in 16th notes in different songs.
Marching Snare Drum
A marching snare drum is very different from a standard snare drum that you’ll find on an acoustic drum kit. These snare drums are meant to be played while walking, so they come with straps or thick harnesses that you can put over your shoulders.
Marching snares typically have a diameter of 14” and a depth of 12”. This makes them a lot deeper than standard drum kit snare drums. However, they produce higher-pitched tones since it’s common to tune them very tightly.
The drumhead on a marching snare is far thicker than one on a standard snare, and marching snare drummers always use very thick sticks to play.
Marching snare drum is very rudimental, meaning players need to have mastery of all the rudiment patterns. These snares are played in drum lines, and there are always multiple drummers playing the same snare parts.
Marching Bass Drum
A marching bass drum is a large bass drum that players strap to their chests. They use two large mallets to play both sides, and there are always multiple bass drum players in a drum line.
Unlike marching snare drums, drum lines usually have multiple bass drum sizes in the bass line section. This gives a bit of variety in the bass tones.
Many people think playing a marching bass drum is quite easy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The weight of a large bass drum makes it heavy to march with, and you need to focus on having correct playing technique while simultaneously keeping as fit as possible.