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The percussion family is probably the most extensive and varied of all musical instruments. They are by far the oldest of instruments, dating back to before the dawn of civilization. Many of these instruments today utilize the same basic principles and design that they did thousands of years ago.
Drums, from the most crude and rudimentary to the high-tech, all operate in the same manner. A thin membrane (traditionally animal hide) is stretched tightly over a hollow cylinder and striking the membrane produces vibrations that are amplified by the cylinder, producing audible sound. Varying the size of the cylinder alters the pitch; lower pitches being created by larger Drum and higher pitches by the smaller variations.Cymbals are another ancient form of percussion instrument. Originally believed to be of Asian descent,
Cymbals have been found amongst the remains of many ancient civilizations including China, Egypt and Greece. Modern cymbals are still based on the same principles, but the manufacturing process is a bit more updated. What was formerly a very hands-on, labor intensive manufacturing process has been made more efficient through the use of machines. These machines not only work to much higher tolerances than can be achieved by hand, but they also produce a very consistent product.
Drum sets can be considered any assemblage of percussion instruments that are set up to be played by one person. The traditionally recognized Drum set, or trap kit as they’re sometimes called, usually consists of a bass drum, snare drum, a rack tom, Floor Tom, a set of high-hats and a cymbal or two. However, depending on the music being performed, these kits can be extremely varied. Fusion for instance, often combines a trap kit with a number of other percussion instruments, such as wood blocks, cowbells, roto-toms and a wide range of cymbals.
Not all drum equipment has ancient origins. The late 20th century introduced the world to electronic drum sets and the drum machine. Both of these instruments have had a dramatic impact on the course of popular music. Once criticized by “real” musicians as being a cheap imitation and an overall blight on music in general, they have gained a much larger degree of acceptance over the last twenty years. They are the staple rhythm instrument for hip-hop and electronica artists, but are now commonly used by many “acoustic” drummers as well.
The world of drumming is constantly expanding. Modern technical innovations have given rise to new sonic possibilities for percussionists of all persuasions. High-tech electronics have helped to create a whole array of non-acoustic sound opportunities, as well as wholly new musical genres. Whatever the future of popular music may hold, drummers are sure to be front and center.
The terms ‘drum kits’ and ‘drum sets’ are interchangeably used to describe a collection of drums and cymbals. Other percussion instruments that can be part of the set can include a cowbell, chimes, wood block, or tambourines. All of these pieces are arranged so that a single drummer has access to each piece simultaneously. Drummers have to be able to keep steady time without rushing the beat, must understand complex polyrhythms, complement the soloists with percussive kicks and rim shots, as well as be prepared to have the entire focus on them when they perform a drum solo.
Every aspiring young drummer dreams of playing solos on drum sets. A drum solo may be improvised or planned in advance and can be any length. It might also be the main performance of the concert. When we think of rock 'n roll drummers, we think of headbangers with excessive energy because their solos are traditionally almost always unaccompanied and quite loud. They are also usually freeform and do not have to maintain the tempo, style, or structure of the song being performed.
When drum sets are used in a jazz solo, the musicians usually play within the form of the song. For example, if the tune has 64 bars, the soloist will typically play for that length, though when jazz musicians experimented in the 60s and 70s they took more than one chorus and sometimes abandoned the structure completely. Jazz drummers may also alternate for more solos with other players in the band.
Gene Krupa was one of the most famous musicians for his famous solos during dance concerts at the height of the big band movement. These solos were relatively simple, but electrified American dancers all over the country. Thirty years later jazz drummer Elvin Jones made just as much noise as rock musicians who might have had far more equipment in their drum kits just by playing complex rhythms and adding unexpected rhythmic punches to his playing.
Drum sets are even used for extended passages in worship music and classical music. In church music a drum solo is called a drum lift. Here the singing is backed only by the drums and it is not normally considered a solo since the singers participate as well, but there is tremendous focus on the drummer. A drum lift may be improvised or set in length and structure. It can be short or last for an entire verse. Less common is the use of drum sets in classical music, but some contemporary composers have written compositions for orchestra and drum set.
If you or one of your children are shopping for one of the many drum sets available on the market, ask yourself some important questions. Remember, there is a lot of practice time to log before you become a star soloist. This can help you determine whether you need a full-size drum set or simply a beginner’s practice pad. Your musical instructor can be a valuable resource in directing you to the appropriate equipment.