The First Beat: Introduction
Drums, in their simplest forms, are among the most fundamental musical instruments known to man. Maybe the only instrument easier to begin making music with is the human voice. There is just something that is captivating about drums and the sonic reverberations they produce. Even in this information age the drums appeal to our basic tribal instincts. However, despite the simplicity of “the drum”, over time drums and drum sets have grown to become some of the most complex and tonally intricate musical instruments in use. They still have the same deep seated appeal; however drums and music produced by them has come to an art form unto itself.
Drums, though deceptively simple in conception, are the perfect musical instrument for someone truly passionate about music. The chief beauty in drumming lies in its innate versatility as a musical skill. Drumming can be used to set the time in a band or used to create solo music unto itself. If you consider yourself to be a natural over-achiever, or a jack of all trades, or a skill grinder, then drumming may be just the right musical skill to learn.
Of course, there are a few things that tend to put-off a lot of would be drumming beginners. Foremost is among put-offs is the seeming complexity of the drum set. You’ll be happy to know that while the modern day drum set may initially seem to be as understandable as learning to drive a stick shift car, in the end it inevitably becomes “comfortable” to set up and use. If anything, all the options available to a drummer represent a huge advantage for the musician. The best drum sets, almost more than any other instrument, are extremely customizable. You can mix and match quite a few different pieces if kit and even “types” of kit to produce unique sounds. However, this quality tends to lead to the next put-off for would be drummers: drum sets seem expensive. It’s true, drum sets can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. In actuality a new drummer need not spend over $750 when starting out and that’s just for a reasonable acoustic drum set and separate cymbal set. If you decide to go the electronic route, you could start up with a little as $500. That being said another issue would be drummers have is that of noise levels. Drums are very loud even when they are trying to be quiet, at least traditional acoustic drums are. Unless you live in the mountains or can afford a specialized music room or are blessed to live next people that are extremely tolerant of new musicians, you’re probably worried about how to deal with the noise they produce. As we will discuss more below, even drummers in the early 20th Century dealt with this issue and had to come up with innovative ways to make drums quieter and fit into bands. The contemporary solution to this problem is what was mentioned briefly a moment ago, check out the best electronic drums review. These drums provide a cheaper and far more sonically friendly starting point for new drummers.
Hopefully, with some of you concerns now at ease, you’re ready to begin a journey in truly discovering the percussion instrument of choice for mankind for the last few millennia. Our hope here is to introduce and help to familiarize you with some of the many interesting facets of drumming and help you get started. Whether you’re a parent looking to buy a kid’s drum set or you’re just looking to buy an adult sized beginner drum set for yourself, there is definitely something here for you.
The Second Beat: History
To begin our journey let’s start by taking a peak at the tempestuous and innovative history of drums, at least up unto the modern era. Now it is important to note that we will be focusing on the modern american drum set and it’s development over the last two centuries. The truth is that drums are both far older than that and far more diverse that. In fact the drum may have been the very first musical instrument ever developed by man. It’s not hard to envision why that may be the case, after all we’ve all done a little air drumming before. Humor aside and in actuality the history of human drumming is far more intricate and engaging than that. Researchers are still trying to pin point and understand the reason behind the human development of music, which drumming is a huge part of. When it comes to origin of drumming one interesting suggestion is that drumming began as a form of tribal communication. Even today there are still tribal groups in the remote parts of the world that actively use drums as a means to communicate over large distances. As you can imagine they aren’t exactly using the latest in Yamaha drum sets, purchased off of amazon, to do so. Beyond the drum set that we are most familiar with there a quite a few different types of drums out there. Here though, for the sake of simplicity, we will mainly be investigating the modern american drum set and one of its most successful off shoots, the electronic drum set.
The modern american drum set, which later became known as the trap set, was born out of the embers of the American Civil War. Drums have never been a push over instrument. If anything, drums are the power tool of the musical world. Sure back in the civil war era, drummers weren’t making heavy metal, but you can be assured that the effect drumming had of soldiers in war wasn’t so far from the effect of more radical genres of music today. However, while the effect of drumming on peoples moods may have remained relatively similar over the centuries, the set up used to achieve this effect has changed dramatically. The drum set that you are familiar with today looks quite a bit different from how drums were set up back in 1865.
The most important part of the development of the drum set is the composite nature of the modern drum sets. The transformation of the drum set took almost hundred years, from the mid-19th Century to the mid-20th Century. Traditionally all the different drums and cymbals that you see set up in one set were carried and played by completely different drummers. We can still see this set up today in modern marching bands. These modern day marching bands are the legacy of civil war era brass bands. During this time period, both during and after the war, these groups of drummers flourished. On the field marching bands would play for the soldiers and of the field marching bands would play for everything from picnics to parades. One of the first advancements to come during this era, towards the evolution of the modern day drum set, was as a technique known as double drumming and was achieved by playing a base drum and a snare drum at the same time. If you take a look at old photos of musicians double drumming you can see how drummers took the first step to playing drums as a composite instrument.
After 1865, according to most sources, the next most important time period in the development of the drums came in the last decade of the 19th Century. There are a number of reasons for the rapid pace in drum kit set up progression around this time. One reason came as an indirect consequence of the outcome of the civil war. There were more African Americans getting involved in music and the syncopated musical styles they created influenced drumming hugely. Up until this point drumming was used to create marching music and a direct consequence of this was that marching music became a popular source of entertainment for many people. However, music created by African Americans in the twilight years of the 1800s had a unique swing and beat to it: it made people want to dance. Additionally around this same time there was a huge influx of immigrants to the states. Thanks to this immigration new specialized types of percussion instruments and instrument making technologies were brought into the drumming scene: everything from Turkish cymbals and cymbal makers (Zildjian and what would eventually become Sabian) to Chinese tom toms. The final outcome of all these factors was whole new type of music that had to be played by a whole new type of drummer. Rag time music became a sweeping sensation at the start of the 20th Century. It was around this time that drum sets started to take on an appearance that we a more familiar with today. These early drum sets were called “trap sets” and the musicians who play them we called “trap drummers”. There are quite a few different origin stories for these terms, but know quite knows for sure anymore. One of the more popular theories says that the term evolved from the word “contraption”. On the other hand, another leading theory suggests that it was to describe the appearance of the drum set “trapping” the drummer behind it. Regardless of where it came from, the key piece of information here is that trap sets were the link between old school marching bands and modern day drummers.
The next most important innovation in the history of the drums was the Ludwig foot pedal. The Ludwig foot pedal, developed by William F. Ludwig Sr. and family, hit the stage in 1909. Although it wasn’t the first foot pedal ever created for drumming, it has certainly been the best. Between the 19th and 20th Centuries a large number of different foot pedals, vastly different from foot pedals used today, were developed and used. Sadly most of these early foot pedals were cumbersome devices that didn’t really help the development of drum sets. The Ludwig pedal, by comparison, was revolutionary. Even today the foot pedals that are used in drumming are based of this design. One last innovation in drumming before WWI was the use of brushes. As drums integrated different instruments into the over drum kit the array of sounds a drummer was able to produce increased exponentially. One of the advantages of drumming to consider, if you want to get into drumming, is that drum kits provide a musically diverse “voice” (i.e. sound) for the drummer. In around 1912 fly swatters, later known as brushes, were introduced to the drum kit. Originally, the idea behind the use of brushes was to reduce the sound of the drums in bands. Drums, as we’ve already mentioned, are loud. This isn’t a problem for a marching band; if anything, especially in war, it’s a plus. However, for concert and dancehall bands it can be a problem when the drums drown out the sound of all the other instruments. Drummers improvised by using metallic fly swatters (which looked like stiff and stringy paint brushes) in place of drum sticks. The overall effect of playing using brushes is a quieter, but still distinct drum sound. Soon drummers, being the artists that they are, discovered that brushes could also be used to create other sound effects that helped to diversify a bands musical range.
The advances that we have discussed so far make up most of the major milestones for drumming. The advances that followed throughout the remainder of the 20th Century were far more subtle than those that came before. Needless to say, drum set development continued to be driven mainly by musical tastes. Some of the styles that hugely influenced advancements in drumming were jazz, swing, and beboop. Furthermore, some big developments that came after the Ludwig foot pedal, but before the 1950s include the development of hi-hat cymbals during the thirties, important innovations in the tom-tom drum, and the development of the ride and crash cymbals. There have been many other developments in drumming as the years have gone by, yet the drum set as we know it now was firmly established just after this time.
The Third Beat: Advantages
There are many benefits to learning to play the drums yourself or, if you have kids, getting your children involved in drumming. There is evidence to show that drumming, as a form of music and communication, has been used by humans for thousands of years to improve social cohesion in groups. Now, a lot of research has been done over the years that indicate the mental health and intellectual benefits of learning music on whole, especially for kids. However you may find it interesting to know that drumming has been linked to the improvement of hand eye-coordination. Furthermore, drumming is a therapeutic activity. A lot of drummers use it as an outlet for self-expression or as a way to relax after dealing with daily stress. Drumming can be an aggressive activity as well and can assist you in keeping (or getting) fit. Granted, it’s not going to replace the role of dedicated exercise when it comes to fitness. Still, it is an enjoyable way to do light exercise.
The Last Beat
Taking up the drums isn’t as expensive as it may initially seem. Sure if you want to go pro one day, then you will probably end up spending quite a bit of money, but you’ll probably make it back just as easily if you succeed. However, there are a lot of good and cheap drum sets available from both music stores and online retailers. Also, for those who may find this helpful, drum sets for kids tend to be cheaper than their full sized adult counter parts. When it comes to purchasing your first set of drums some good companies to look out for when shopping include Pearl, Gammon Percussion, and Ludwig (although Ludwig tends to be more expensive, they have great quality). If you want to go the electronic route, then maybe consider starting with a Yamaha DTX 400 K electronic drum kit. Electronic drum are newer than acoustics and so don’t boost manufacturing companies as old as Ludwig and Zildjian; however there are some great companies out there including Yamaha, Alesis, and D-Drum. Finally, as far as cymbals go Zildjian and Sabian are the brands of choice to start with.
Regardless of what brand or type of drums you start with, you will definitely have a wonderful experience in learning the drums. The drumming community is a rich and vibrant one. There is a lot of history to get to know and a lot of musical styles to experiment with. Here on this site we have a lot of informative articles to help guide you on your journey and a lot of reviews to help you make the right purchasing decisions. Feel free to take a look around and have fun as you immerse yourself in the resonant world of drumming.