Week 3 – Drums

No instrument has longer history than the drums. Drums are found in almost every culture worldwide and are known to have existed since at least 6000BC. Drums have strong ceremonial, sacred and symbolic associations. Drums have in the past been used for signalling of meeting, dangers sending messages etc… The talking drums of Africa imitate pitch patterns of language and can transmit messages over many miles. Shallow frame drums serve as ritual instruments for shamans throughout Central Asia, Siberia and some native tribes of North America. In Europe, The Timpani were associated with royalty as late as the 17th Century. The Tambourine was traditionally a woman’s instrument in Islamist cultures, ancient and prehistoric times and in medieval Europe. The snare (side drum) was and still is used in European infantry regiments however, it used to be used not just as an instrument but to code instructions to soldiers during battles.

The first drum kits were assembled in the 1800’s when the development of the bass drum pedal enabled all of the basic percussion instruments (snare, bass drum and cymbals) to be played simultaneously by a single person. In the late 1920’s jazz drummers in the nightclubs of New Orleans began using the drum kit to provide creative accompaniment for other jazz musicians. The set expanded with tom-toms, Turkish and Chinese style cymbals, and the hi-hat cymbal which to this day remains one of the most important innovations.

Over the years many new techniques have been developed by different artists, for example:

Gene Krupa – Jazz drummer who featured tom-toms predominantly in his playing during the 1930’s and established drums as a solo instrument.

  • Max Roach – Another great jazz drummer who tuned his drums higher and emphasized rhythm with use of cymbals (particularly the ride) rather than the bass drum thus, allowing more flexible use of the rest of the kit.
  • Louis Belson – Jazz drummer who established/revived the use of the two bass drums (double kick) in the 1950’s.
  • Through the 60’s and 70’s recording techniques improved with greater amplification of instruments from rock music enabling drum kits to be played louder without overpowering other instruments. Drums were made of stronger materials and drum heads were made more durable with plastic replacing calf skin. More modern kits began to emerge which were bigger consisting of four or more toms as well as a variety of auxiliary percussion instruments.
  • The 80’s brought electronic drums (or MIDI drums) which are now more often used for recording or low volume practice.

For this weeks composition only drums were used. The piece starts out fairly minimal but builds up energy as it progresses and more layers of drums are introduced. In all, we hear 3 different drum kits in the piece (3 instances of EZdrummer – 2 drumkits from hell and 1 standard rock kit) which are all playing together towards the end of the piece.

Drumkit from Hell (left) and Standard Rock Kit (right)

Drumkit From Hell Standard Rock Kit

Also, there are some sampled world percussive drums (Darbuka and Indian Tabla) which are played through NI’s Kontakt and a TR909 kick which comes in from 01:24 just to beef it up some more.

Darbuaka (left) and Indian Tabla Drums (right)




The piece is mainly in 4/4 time signature from beginning to end although some polyrythmical elements are introduced at 01:24 (snare, stick and hi hat) layered over the main underlying time signature of 4/4. The drums are mainly programmed using a midi keyboard and edited, although a hi-hat loop was used for the hi-hats which we hear from 00:21. On these Hi-hats which we hear from 00:21 til the end of the piece there is a live performance element in the form of a sweeping EQ effect which was done using live automation of a ‘notch’ on the EQ of the Hi-Hats.

EQ Performance

EQ Performance

Below is a link to this weeks piece:



Chatto, A (1996). Brief History of Drumming. http://www.cadre-online.ca/drumhistory.html – accessed 25/03/2014.

Randall, JA. (2001). “Evolution and Function of Drumming as Communication in Mammals”. American Zoologist 41 (5): 1143–1156. doi:10.1668/0003-1569(2001)041[1143:EAFODA]2.0.CO;2.

Reed, Ted (1997). Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer, p.33. ISBN 0-88284-795-3.

Toussaint, Godfried (2013). The Geometry of Musical Rhythm, Chapman & Hall/CRC.

Wolfe, J (2011). History of Drumming. OC Drum School. http://ocdrumschool.com/history-of-drumming – accessed 26/03/2014.


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