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11 Different Types of Drums Explained

Baby playing with various types of drums.

Pity the parents whose kids choose drums but hey, you can’t help but appreciate kids who want to play music and if it’s drums, it’s drums.

Also known as membranophones, drums have been used as musical instruments for the longest time. Their name is given to them owing to the fact that the drums produce a sound when the membrane is struck with an object. This object can be a stick or even the fingers of the person playing the drums. When struck, the membrane vibrates and makes a sound. Drums come in various different shapes and sizes. There are many different types of drums. Some of them are discussed below.


Ashiko drum

This drum has a cylindrical shape. The head of this drum is on the wide end, and the narrow end is open. It is typically made of hardwood and goatskin hides. The ropes on the sides can be used to tune this drum. This type of drum is one that people can play using their fingers instead of drumsticks. A very broad range of tones can be produced using this drum, and it has a very beautiful sound to it. In addition to that, this drum is traditionally from West Africa and is played a lot in countries like Cuba. The drum gets its name from the African word ‘Ashiko,’ which means freedom.

This drum has a rich tradition in the Yoruba culture and has been there ever since 9000 BC. In ancient times, it was always used in street parades and carnivals. The Ashiko drum is a hand-carved drum that comes in various designs and shapes. There are a few variants of this drum. These are listed below.

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Boku – used in the Abakua secret society in Eastern Cuba

Tambor Alegre -played in Afro-Columbia music in the Caribbean region of Colombia

Timbau – Afro-Brazilian music found in Bahia region; this is made with synthetic heads as opposed to goatskin

Basler Drum

Men playing basler drums during a festival.

This is a two-headed drum that takes its name from its place of origin – Basel. Basel is the name of a city in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. It has a population of approximately 180,000 people and is the third most populated city of Switzerland. This drum is played in the Carnival of Basel, where around 2000 drummers play this type of drum. In the German language, this drum is known as a Tambouren.

Bass Drum

Bass drum

The bass drum is a very popular type of drum that is played in almost every band today. These drums are very low pitched and come in various different sizes. This allows for melodic music to be made. This drum was imported from the Middle East and did not evolve from the many varieties of drums available in Europe in the middle ages. In the initial stages, when this drum was used, it had rope tensioning. Slowly and gradually, this rope tensioning was replaced with screw tensioning. Along with this, the shell was made from brass or aluminum, and not wood solely.

To make the head of the drum, the skin of calves and horses is used. In the modern age, you’re sure to see a bass drum as part of an orchestra. In this particular setting, these drums are typically suspended from a sturdy frame. This gives them the freedom to be moved around and positioned to the comfort of the drummer. However, that’s not the only way to position this drum;   it can also be placed on a stand. Today, bass drums used in the orchestra have a diameter of 70 –100cm, with a 35–55cm (approximately) deep shell.

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Conga Drum

Conga drum

This is a type of hand drum that comes in groups of two or three. These are tall drums and typically come in 3 types; Quinto (small – high), Conga/Tres dos (medium – middle), and Tumba (large – low). This drum is a part of the percussion family. It has its origins in Africa but gained popularity when it was used in Cuban music. It is a single head drum that gained attention in 1930 when Latin music gained popularity in the U.S. with a combination of Cuban style. A special dance that is known as the conga line also helped this drum get popular. In this type of dance, people stand in a line and dance to a tune.

The conga drum is known as a tumbadora in Cuba. These drums are typically made from fiberglass or wood and have screws that help with the tuning of this drum. Mostly, this drum is played by hand. However, occasionally, small drum sticks can also be used to play it. There are 5 main strokes that are used in playing this drum. These are open tone, bass tone, muffled tone, touch-tone, and the slap tone.

Bongo Drum

Bongo drums

Bongo drums are small drums that are usually played with the conga drums to produce melodious music. These drums are very popular in Latin American music. They usually come in sets of 2 where the larger drum is known as ‘hembra,’ and the smaller drum is known as ‘macho.’ ‘Hembra’ means female, and ‘macho’ means male. These drums have their origins in Africa and were brought to South America by African slaves. Bongo drums have a high pitch and produce a beat like sound. These drums are usually placed by putting them between the knees of the user.

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The hembra is placed to the right, and the macho is usually placed to the left. Fingers, brushes, sticks, or palms can be used to play this drum. The rhythm of this drum has its roots in Latin American music owing to the fact that the music is used for dance moves like the mambo, salsa, and conga. In order to play this drum, there are a few essential things that one needs to know. These are the sitting position, the open tone, the slap, the heel tip movement, and the basic muted tone. Once these are mastered, playing the bongo drums can be really easy.


Tabla drums

This is an Indian drum that is played by making use of the heels of the hand and the fingertips. These drums also usually come in pairs of two. The smaller one that is placed on the right is made of wood and is known as a daya (which means right), or tabla. The larger, which is placed on the left one is made of steel and is known as baya (which means left), or dagga. The tabla is most frequently used in vocal and instrumental music and also dance.

Mostly, the tabla is used as an accompanying instrument. However, tabla players also often perform solo. The name tabla comes from the Arabic word ‘tabl’ – which means drum. The modern tabla has a unique playing technique. Professional tabla players are able to produce many varieties of rhythms using this instrument. The time cycles are rendered in terms of drumming phrases called thekha or measured beat. Both the drums are around 10 inches in height. The left one is slightly smaller in size. The membranes of the drums are made of goatskin.

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Pandeiro drums

This is a Brazilian drum that is played with the fingers, thumbs and palms. It is used for many purposes like percussion sections, samba schools, capoeira, and as an auxiliary percussion instrument in commercial music. The head of this drum is placed on a metal hoop, whose diameter is larger than the shell rim that it covers. The drum has a wooden shell that is shallow and cylindrical in shape. It features six metal piers that are equally-distanced. These metal piers are attached to its sidewall.

The drum is played by holding the frame in one hand and striking the palm or fingers of the other hand on it. The cymbals on the sides produce a slight jingle. ‘Pandeiro’ is a Portuguese word that is used for ‘tambourine.’ It was around the 18th century when the Pandeiro was introduced to Brazil from Portugal. This was somewhere during the colonial time period. The shell of this drum is around 10 inches in diameter. The depth of the shell is 1.9 inches. The flesh hoop and tension collar of the drum is around 10.6 inches in diameter, and the jingles are 2.2 inches in diameter.


Tambourine drum

This is very similar to the Pandeiro. The jingles of this drum are called zils, and they are smaller than that of the Pandeiro. This instrument does not necessarily have heads, and it may or may not be tunable. The jingles of this drum can be in single or double rows. This drum also belongs to the percussion family and is made of wood or plastic. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most popular one is circular. This drum is used in many forms of music; Turkish, Greek, Italian, classical, Persian, Gospel, and so on. It has its origins in Egypt where it was known as ‘tof’. The instrument was mainly used in religious contexts.

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The word ‘tambourine’ has origins in the French and Arab culture; ‘tambourin’ is a French word, whereas ‘tunbur’ is an Arabic word. The tambourine can be held with the hands or can also be mounted on a stand. There are various different playing techniques of the tambourine. These include the standard strike technique, the thumb roll technique, and the shake roll technique. No specific method ensures the best sound or music. It all depends on the person playing the instrument. Care should be taken to not put pressure on the tambourine, as this can cause a muted sound. The tambourine should be held lightly, and the grip should be tightened for ease of playing.


Bodhran drum

This is an Irish drum that can be played by hand or by using tippers. Tippers are various types of beaters. These drums may or may not be tunable. This single-headed frame drum is widely used for traditional music in Asia and India. Parts of Europe, North Africa, Iberia, Ireland, and Brazil also make use of this drum. It is a basic type of drum that does not have jingles attached to it. In most areas, it is just used as an accompanying instrument.

The diameter of this drum varies from 25cm to 65cm, with deep sides that reach around 20cm. One side of the drum is attached to goatskin head. Irish people sometimes make use of the skins of other animals for this drum, too. However, goatskin is the most popular one to use. The other side of the drum is open and allows for the player to have a firm grip over the drum. A hex key is found in the skin of the drum that allows for the loosening or tightening of the drum skin. It is very important that the skin is tightened to the right level so that the performance of the drum is at its best. This drum gets its name from the Gaelic word ‘bodhar,’ which means deaf.

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Goblet Drum

Goblet drums

This drum is more commonly known as a darbuka and is a Middle Eastern drum. It is called a goblet drum because of its unusual shape. It is quite ancient and has its playing origins in Egypt, Turkey, and Armenia. In the modern age, this drum is played in Western music as well. It is made of wood or clay and has goatskin over it, which is tied using nails or ropes. This is a single-headed drum that has widely been used for a long time for belly dancing. Hence, it is also called the belly dance drum.

Like every other musical instrument, the darbuka also has different strokes. Some basic strokes include doum, ta ka, and pa. A musician needs to pay attention to the technicalities of each of these strokes in order to create a certain rhythm.

To play this drum, a person needs to be very well versed with all of these strokes. Many different varieties of the darbuka exist. Some of these are the Egyptian darbuka, the Oriental darbuka, the Turkish darbuka, and the Arabian darbuka. In order to know which one is best suited for your playing needs, you need to find out about the different specific aspects of each.


Djembe drums

This is a very popular hand drum that has its roots in West Africa. This drum can be mechanically tuned or rope tuned and the head of this drum can either be made of goatskin or can be synthetic. This drum gets its name from the Bamana in Mali who once said ‘Anke dje, anke be.’ ‘Dje’ means gather and ‘be’ means everyone. Typically, this drum is 23 to 25 inches in height and sports a unique design.

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The drum is goblet-shaped and is hallowed out of a single piece of tree trunk. It has a bowl-shaped chamber in its upper part, which is responsible for creating the low sound that comes from the bass strokes. These are made by hitting the center of the drum with your hand. The lower part is narrow and elongated and serves to project the volume of the played tones. For the sound of this drum to be perfect, the drum needs to be tuned to perfection.

These drums are a few of the many types of drums that exist. Each one has its own specialties and can be used for different types of music.

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