"The most persistent sound which reverberates through man's history is the beating of war drums." - Arthur Koestler
The UK market for recorded music is among the largest music markets worldwide, ranking fourth after the United States, Japan and Germany.
We buy it, we download it, we share our favourite songs digitally, we listen online, we listen on the bus home from school or work and for some of us, we listen as we sing in the shower or in the kitchen.
There is a whole host of different styles of music out there. Some people prefer world music and traditional music like the didgeridoo, African drums, Afro Cuban tunes or West African music or ethnic and ritual music whilst others prefer to listen to more classic ensemble music, the softer tones of a tambourine and bells or the more vibrant sounds of latin percussion instrumental music.
Music is something that defines us as humans and is something that we depend upon. It can be shared and appreciated by anyone and everyone, whether you can play an instrument or not. But have you ever thought about trying your hand at the drums?
The drums are not usually the first instrument that comes to mind when most people think about taking up an instrument - piano, guitar, and even the flute are more commonly played that the drums.
Yet drums are the foundation of almost any piece of pop, rock or jazz music. Drums are what give music its tempo. They play the role of the metronome in many music genres and guide the musicians as they play.
Without a drummer, a rock group isn't much!
But before heading straight for your nearest music shop to purchase your first drum kit, it would be a good idea to first immerse yourself in drumming culture and the history of the drum kit.
The History of the Drum Kit: How Were the Drums Born?
At the very beginning, there was no such thing as acoustic drums. Drums actually came about from a mixture of several different instruments that were played both together or separately.
However, as any musical anthropologist will tell you, percussion instruments did make an appearance quite early on in terms of human history. The earliest traces of cymbals, drums, and tambourines date back to the 7th century BC and we know that the ancient Greeks also used them during banquets as a form of musical entertainment.
Drums and cymbals were probably the first percussion instruments to come into existence. These are also key instruments that would make up the modern drumsets of our time.
Later on, as drumming, culture began to evolve and under the rule of Ottoman, cymbals, and drums began to be used for military means in order to scare the enemy on the battlefield.
It was not long after, at the beginning of the 19th century, when slaves emigrating from Africa to North America and regions such as Louisiane that percussion instruments began to be incorporated into Western musical culture. This brought rise to the development of jazz, which was heavily influenced by African music techniques in the way the drums were incorporated into tunes.
Improvisation is at the heart of drumming across music genres, such as jazz, bebop, and swing.
Thus, at that time, when drums were just beginning to make a name for themselves, several drummers would be required in order to ensure all the different drums were played:
- One drummer to play the bass drum
- One drummer to play the snare drum
- One percussionist to play the cymbals
Not exactly practical!
In 1909, the bass drum pedal was invented by Ludwig reducing the number of musicians needed to play the drums in one group. The invention of the bass drum pedal, tuneable drums and splash cymbals naturally paved the way for the modern drum kit.
However, we had to wait right up until the 1950's to see the arrival of synthetic drum skin, which would replace the leather skins that had previously been used and would greatly facilitate drum tuning.
Following that, the 1980's saw the invention of the double-kick drum pedal - a true symbol of heavy metal in all its forms.
Eventually, the electronic drum-kit would turn out to be rather a godsend for casual first-time drummers, helping them to master musical skills in a matter of weeks.
Pearl drum kits, Yamah drum-kits, drum-kits for children, drums for playing funk or hard rock, learning how to use drumsticks - today we can learn just as much on a drumpad and Yamaha e-drums as we can through a physical snare drum - both give off distinctive metallic sounds that are really quite powerful and impressive.
Drum Culture: Who Are the Most Legendary Drummers?
Jimi Hendrix, the infamous rock guitar virtuoso - probably almost anybody could think of him should the time come to name a guitarist on pub quiz night. But can the same be said of drummers, do they share the same level of celebrity ?
Would you be able to name a legendary drummer who had made his mark as a percussionist in quite the same way?
Experts in the art of drum rolling, masters at giving powerful musical strikes great enough to make one startled to the core or moved to tears, drummers play an important role as musicians and many are actually just as well known as guitarists.
In fact, the magazine, Rolling Stones, published a list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time. As with any of these kind of lists though, those topping the list are not everyone's idea of the best of the best!
Let us begin with the pioneers of this fine musical instrument! Have you heard of Papa Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa or even Art Blakey?
Buddy Rich actually had an incredible influence on modern drummers. The speed at which he was able to hit the drum, the way in which he was able to hold his left drumstick and his capacity for improvising drum solos when playing in a band was nothing less than astounding.
Fo my dad, a drummer since the age of 33, Buddy Rich is THE biggest drummer of all time and the only percussionist to still have quite such an influence on the modern drummers of today...
"He knows how to reel off drum rolls with just one hand. Look at his left hand - nothing moves apart from his fingers. And when he plays the hi-hats, he still able to give drum rolls with his left hand whilst keeping a regular tempo with his right hand."
In terms of more recent drummers, you will probably know of the drummer, Led Zeppelin. The drummer who gave his noble name to his band. However, John Bonham, was once almost just as famous and is exactly one of the most imitated drummers of all time.
When it comes to famous drummers, these famous names also spring to mind:
- Keith Moon from The Who,
- Joey Jordison from Slipknot,
- Dave Lombardo from Slayer,
- Travis Barker from Blink 182,
- Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers,
- Ringo Starr from the Beatles,
- Ginger Baker from Cream,
- Stewart Copeland from The Police,
- Neil Peart from Rush,
- Lars Ulrich from Metallica…
What is the Most Emblematic Drum Solo?
When starting out learning to play the drums, there are a few must-have pieces that should absolutely be a part of your drumming classes whether you are taking drumming lessons at a professional music school or at home with a personal tutor.
Be warned, songs will probably not fall into the category of legendary drumming tunes! As the majority of the most famous drumming solos are so well-known due to the extremely high technical ability they command of the drummer.
Sounds, rhythm, groove... the beat of some of the legendary drum songs is far from the basic ternary rhythm of thousands of other songs.
Whatever the style of music, drums act as a marker for the other instruments. They really are rhythm in a box! The bass guitar, acoustic guitar, saxophone, trumpet or even the violin, no matter the instrument, they will all need to follow the beat of the drum or rather, the tempo set by the drums.
Seven Nation Army and We Will Rock You are some of the most emblematic and recognisable songs out there. In these classic tunes, it is the simple sound of the drums themselves that plays a main role in the success of the song. However, in many other pieces of music, what is so impressive is not actually the beat of the drums per se, but rather the ability of the drummer to improvise and to create amazing music through legendary drum solos or amazing lunar rhythms.
John Bonham gives an almost 15 minute-long drum solo in the piece, Moby Dick. He turns rock conventions on their head by introducing contretemps without ever playing one false note. And that is - as they say - a drumming legend perfecting the great art of drumming!
And what about Sunday Bloody Sunday? Without Larry Mullen Jr unforgettable drum roles, the tune would have absolutely no meaning at all. Thanks to Larry, even your great-grandma would be able to identify the song's intro in a matter of seconds!
There are a huge number of other songs out there, which would be nothing without the drums.
So get out your tablature and start preparing to beat the best drummers out there! ?
Do Drum Movies Really Exist?
Violin, folk guitar, wind instruments... it's not hard to think of films that focus on musical instruments, but are there any out there that centre around the drums?
Sadly, the drums - even though they play an extremely fundamental part of most musical pieces - often take a back-seat when it comes to reaping any glory. Drummers are often seen sitting down, concealed behind a mirage of snare drums, bass drums, and hi-hats, modestly contenting themselves with keeping the beat of the music.
Drummers and their drum-kits are often relegated to the background or even places to one side - they rarely see the spotlight like guitarists and solo singers do.
However, there are still some films out there that place the drummer and the drums at the forefront of the action.
This is true of the film, Whiplash. A real psychological drama, tainted with violence and manipulation, Whiplash introduces us to the daily life of a first-time drummer who finds himself face to face with a cruel and inflexible drum teacher.
If you are looking to improve your drumming skills, this film may not get you very far, but it does focus on learning the drums as a central theme and that can be quite motivating in itself!
OK, so just as a warning, the world of drumming is actually a lot more relaxed than what you would think from watching the film!
If you like biopics, then you would also do well to learn more about drumming through Gene Krupa and the film about him, The Gene Krupa Story. The film takes you right to the heart of Gene Krupa's life as a jazz drummer. Thanks to some incredible and down-right moving on-screen performances, your emotions will probably go up and down as much as his life rises and falls as he gains success as a jazz musician only to succumb to the clutches of drug and alcohol dependence.
Although somewhat romanticised in parts, the film does still remain fairly true to the real Gene Krupa and his life. In particular, the way it portrays his dilemma in not knowing whether to follow his heart and further his passion for music or to honour the memory of his father and his last wishes.
Finally, if you are looking to find one last glimpse of drumming culture on screen that deals with the drums in an entertaining way, but does not entirely focus on them, then you will need to watch Spinal Tap! This faux documentary recreates all the classic cliches of rock groups in such a realistic way that it is quite a struggle to untangle what is real and what is not.
However, don't wait for cinema to help you improve your drumming technique, just see them as a nice entertaining distraction rather than the be all and end all of learning to drum!
Definitions - Drum Culture
It doesn't matter if you are using solfège as a framework for your learning or improving your drumming technique through YouTube videos, you will soon find that as with almost any musical instrument, there are a host of terms relating to drumming vocabulary.
What is a Pause?
In English pause means to stop for a short while. And in fact, in music it means exactly that. A pause is a break in the rhythm - a chance where the drummer can relax for a short while before carrying on!
What is a Chorus?
A chorus is usually the refrain of a song that follows a verse and is generally composed of one or two repetitive phrases that make it easy for the listener to remember. In jazz music, the chorus is usually the part for soloists, so listen out for drum solos during the chorus next time you tune into Jazz FM!