What are the Different Types of Drums?

Drums are percussive instruments that are made stretching a membrane across a vessel opening. The vibration caused striking the membrane, referred to as the head, with another object produces the sound. Drumheads can be made from goat, cow, antelope, or sheep skin, as well as synthetic materials. Drums are carved out of wood, sculpted out of clay, hammered out of metal, or molded out of plastic cultures all over the world. Drums come in an infinite variety of styles, just like the people who use them for communication, ritual, or entertainment.

The shape of the drums is a common and simple way to classify them. The most common types of drums are cylindrical, barrel, conga, waisted, goblet, and bowl. The cylindrical variety includes a frame drum, which has a squat hoop, and a long drum, which is thin and tall. A barrel, such as a Tabla, a goblet, such as a Djembe, and a bowl, such as a Nakari, are all named after their shapes. As with a Changko’s cinched waist, the conga tapers at the bottom and the waisted drum tapers in the middle.

A drum can have a head on either end of the body or only on one. Tambourines (frame drums) may have two heads, whereas congas and bowls have only one. Consider whether you can cradle the drum under your arm or place it on your lap to keep it off the ground. Some drums, such as the Djembe from Mali, can be carried while walking or dancing, while others, like the Djembe from Mali, are stationary.

Pitch is one thing that all drums have in common. Drums have a distinct tone that is determined their body shape and head size, but not all drums are tuned to the same degree. The pitch of a “pitched” drum can be changed stretching the head with a cord or a peg. Pitch percussion includes several drums that are part of a set, each with a pitch tuned to harmonize with the others, such as Bongos. Non-pitched drums, such as a bass or snare drum in a drum set, are common in the Western world. These can be mixed and matched with any key or harmony.