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.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
Free eBook: Discover how real independent musicians like you are making $4,077 - $22,573+ monthly via Youtube, let me know where to send the details:
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.
Tenor drums are the final type of drum that you’ll find in a marching band’s percussion section. These are also referred to as multi tenor drums, and they’re a series of drums that are connected together and carried via a harness.
They sit flat in front of the player so that they have easy access to all the drums. Snare drum players need to use traditional grip, while tenor drum players need to use matched grip to have a good reach.
You’ll find a varying number of drums in different tenor drum setups, but you’ll always get an array of tones from all the drums. Tenor drums are the only drums in a drum line that can produce somewhat of a melody, so they’re often utilized in that way.
Concert Snare Drum
Concert snare drums are similar to acoustic drum kit snare drums, and you can even place a concert snare on a standard kit. However, they have a few design differences that make them perform better in orchestral environments.
When an orchestral percussionist plays a snare drum, it’s usually placed on a tall snare drum stand that allows them to stand while playing.
The snare drum shells are typically 14” in diameter with 5” depths. But like acoustic snares, you get various shell sizes offered by different brands.
Concert snares commonly have more intense snare wire designs than standard snares. You’ll find them having more than one snare throw-off to give you more control over how the snare wires respond when you strike the drum.
Another thing to mention about concert snare drums is that most of them are very expensive. That’s why many orchestras just use normal snare drums in their percussion section, especially if they’re not professional orchestras with access to high-end gear.
Concert Bass Drum
Concert bass drums are always the largest types of bass drums that you’ll see. They range from 30” to 40”. With them being so large, they need to be mounted onto a cradle stand.
A concert bass drum player will use one large mallet to strike a single side, which is different from marching bass drum players striking both sides.
Concert bass drums are one of the lowest-pitched sounds in an orchestra, so they’re always used for dramatic effect.
Players also need to place their hand on the skin of a concert bass drum after striking it, as the resonance is very powerful. They may wait a bit before muffling with their hand, but you’ll hear some unwanted overtones if you leave it for too long.
Timpani are the largest drums that you’ll find being played in an orchestral percussion section. They usually come in sets of four, but you’ll also regularly see percussionists playing two.
They fall under the pitched percussion set of instruments, meaning they produce melodic notes as you strike them with mallets.
They’re also regularly called kettle drums, and they’re often a key sound that you can hear in classical compositions.
Each drum in a set has a pedal that allows you to change the tones that they produce. As you push the pedal down, it tightens the skin to produce a higher pitch. As you press the back of the pedal to lift it up, the drum produces a lower pitch.
The trick about playing timpani is that you need to get those pitches to match whatever key the band is playing in. Timpani players often have to do this in the middle of songs when they need to play different notes. It’s really impressive!
The hang drum is a large steel pan with dents in it that produce different tones as you strike them with your fingers. It’s also known as a handpan, but the origins of the instrument are a bit shaky.
The original hang was designed by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer in Switzerland under a company called PANArt. However, the instrument gained major popularity, and many knockoff versions started being created.
The original creators aren’t fans of the other versions, as they believe that the original versions are more of a way of life than a simple instrument that people play. At one stage, they required handwritten letters to be sent to them before they made a hang for someone.
With that said, handpans are beautiful instruments. They’re always designed to set scales and tonal ranges, making them easy to play. If you want to play a different scale, you need to get an entirely new handpan.
The downside of these instruments is that they’re seriously expensive. All authentic hang drums cost well over $1000 or $2000.
A tongue drum is very similar to a handpan, as it has the same design and way of playing it. However, most tongue drums are far more affordable. They also have more aggressive tones. They sound bright and aggressive, whereas handpans sound smooth and ethereal.
Tongue drums are also a lot smaller than handpans. Some are as small as 5”, while others are as large as 16”, which is still smaller than most handpans.
You can play top tongue drums with your fingers, but the steel surface feels a lot harder than the surfaces on handpans. You also have to strike harder to get good notes out. So, most companies that sell tongue drums provide mallets to play them with.
These mallets are small, but they allow you to play a tongue drum a lot easier. Like handpans, tongue drums are tuned to specific scales and modes. You need to own several of them if you want to be able to play different songs of varying keys.
A steelpan is another pitched percussion instrument, and they’re often referred to as steel drums. Unlike tongue drums and handpans, steel drums have a chromatic set of notes. This means that you can play any song with any keys on them.
You play a steelpan by using two mallets with rubber tips. You get various types of steelpans, and the size of the mallets depends on what type of pan you’re playing.
These drums originate from Trinidad and Tobago, and they’re mostly used in Caribbean styles of music.
They work well as a solo instrument, but they also sound incredible when played in an ensemble of multiple steelpan players.
Steelpan playing is quite easy to get into, as you don’t need to master too many playing techniques. However, like all instruments, these drums are tricky to master.
Timbales are metal-shelled drums that typically come in pairs. They have drumheads on the top, but they’re left open at the bottom with no drumheads so that they have short and punchy sounds.
A normal timbale setup will have two timbales mounted onto a hardware stand, and percussionists often mount something else to that stand, like a cowbell.
These drums originate from Cuba, and they’re most often used in various types of Latin music.
You can play them with any types of sticks. Some percussionists use thick wooden sticks, while others use standard drumsticks. You may also find timbales being utilized in an acoustic drum kit setup.
Taiko is the term used to describe a series of different drums in Japan. Most of these drums have similar design aspects, but they come in a range of shapes and sizes.
They have an incredibly rich history, dating all the way back to ancient Japan. The drums were regularly used in war, but they’re now mostly used in traditional settings.
The art of playing taiko drums is a unique one, as players use specific posture and movements. Players also commonly wear traditional clothing during performances.
Electronic Sampling Pad
Electronic sampling pads are essentially mini electronic drum kits. They have six to twelve pads that trigger sounds when you strike them.
They also have a built-in drum module that allows you to utilize various features. Most electronic pads let you load your own sounds, making them highly valuable to gigging drummers that need to recreate certain electronic sounds on stage.
You can expand on an electronic sampling pad by adding external pads to make a small drum kit setup. Drummers often do this when they play in small venues. Drummers also incorporate them within their acoustic drum kit setup, creating what is known as a hybrid drum set.
Some electronic sample pads also act as audio interfaces, making them incredibly useful for musicians that do a lot of audio production work.
Drum machines are tools that allow you to create sequences of electronic drum beats and various electronic sounds. These can be considered as a type of drum due to them having pads that you can play the beats with, but they’re so much more than that.
They had a simple beginning in the early 20th century, but they caught major traction when programmable drum machines came out in the 70s.
One of the most famous drum machines is the Roland TR-808. Music producers have been using sounds from that machine ever since it came out decades ago.
The sequencing aspect of drum machines is their biggest draw. Depending on how powerful the machine is, you can create some intricate and highly detailed rhythm loops.
They’re great for music production and performers that need rhythmic backing.
The pandeiro is closely related to the tambourine, but it has slightly different tonal characteristics. It’s from Brazil, and it’s used in most forms of Brazilian music.
This instrument has a round frame with a drumhead stretched over it. It then has jingles on the side that are in a cupped shape. This shape makes their sound very tight and short, whereas a tambourine’s jingles offer more resonance.
Pandeiros are played by utilizing all the parts of your hand. You can then shake it to rattle the jingles.
Tassa drums also come from Trinidad and Tobago, and they’re typically played in what is called a tassa ensemble.
The drums come in various shapes and sizes, but they share the same construction techniques. Traditionally, you get a clay shell that is covered with goat skin. However, many companies create modern versions with synthetic materials.
The modern versions tend to last longer, but they don’t hold the same cultural value as the traditional ones.
The bendir is a large frame drum that mostly gets played in North Africa and certain parts of Asia. This drum can be held in one hand while your other hand is free to strike the drumhead.
The head has a snare stretched across it to give the drum a sharper sound. It also has a bit of a buzz. Bendir drums are surprisingly responsive to dynamics, so you can hear some great performances of people playing these.
Bata drums look similar to djembes, but they’re usually a bit smaller. These drums are also played on both sides, meaning they have to be set up sideways to perform with.
One of the defining features of a bata drum is that one side is smaller than the other. This gives you two distinct ones from each drumhead.
Some players set up multiple drums on stands, while others simply lean the bata across their legs if they’re only playing one at a time.
The bodhran is another type of frame drum. This one is used in a lot of Irish music, and it’s typically a bit smaller than a bendir. You play it the same way, though.
The difference is that a bodhran doesn’t have snare wires, so it doesn’t produce a buzzing sound.
When someone plays one of these, they use their one hand to strike the drumhead while the other one controls how the tones come out by pressing on the back of the head.
Tanggu drums are Chinese drums that perform very similarly to Japanese taiko drums. The drumheads are made from animal skin, and you use large mallets to strike them.
Many people mistake tanggu drums for taiko drums, which is understandable, seeing how their sounds and appearances are so alike.
Goblet Drum / Doumbek
The doumbek is another version of a djembe. This one isn’t rope-tuned, though. It’s most commonly used in Egyptian music, and the way you play it is much gentler than how you play a djembe.
Players will hold this drum under their arms and lightly tap the drumhead to get different sounds and rhythms.
The udu is a Nigerian instrument. It’s essentially a clay water jug, but it produces different sounds according to how you cup the large hole on the side. You get a bass sound, but the pitch will change depending on how you shift your grip.
Types of Drums for Beginners, Final Thoughts
You’re most likely going to see standard drum kits and marching drums being used far more often than any of the other drums I mentioned. The other drums are more popular around the world in different cultures, but the thing that connects everything together is rhythm.
If you want to learn how to play one of these drums, it may be best to start with playing a full drum set. After that, you’ll have the rhythmic chops to be able to pick up most other drum instruments quite easily.