Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums From Different Cultures

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Percussion instruments have been around for centuries. They have evolved and changed through time as people experimented with different shapes, sizes, and sounds.

Besides the fundamental role of providing rhythm in music, percussion also has a unique way of bringing people together. When people of different cultures play percussion instruments together, a friendship is built as they learn about each other’s culture through the music.

There are many types of drums in the world and even more styles of playing them. Even though some drums may look similar or have similar sounds, there is probably a unique way to play it that gives it its own style.

Some types of drums are more popular than others depending on where they are located. For example, the Djembe drum is very popular in West Africa whereas the Timpani is more popular in Northern Europe.

Talking drum

Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

Talking drums are not exactly drums. They are usually a pair of small talking drums, one larger than the other.

They consist of a drum shell, called the belly, and a membrane, called the head. The drummer plays the belly with a stick instead of hitting the head.

The characteristic sound of talking drums comes from the way the drummer plays them. They don’t just play rhythm, they tell a story. The way they play with pitch and tempo changes what story is being told.

The drummer plays fast when something exciting happens in the story and slows down when it is more calm. This adds more depth to the storytelling element.

Talking drums are very popular in West Africa such as Ghana and Nigeria. These musicians that play them are known as drummers or percussionists.

Saddle drum

A saddle drum is a type of drum that gets its name because of the shape of the shell. It looks like a saddle, and the sticks bounce off of this shell like a horse rider would bounce off of a saddle.

Saddle drums are popular in Caribbean music. The rhythm patterns can be very complex, with lots of variations. Some even sound like rain!

Like many other drums, the saddle drum can be made out of different materials. Most common is wood, but some people use aluminum or steel for the shell. Fiberglass or rubber may be used for the padding as well.

Swinging and bouncing are important elements when playing this type of drum. By doing so, musicians can get more out of their rhythm and add more flavor to their song.


Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

A timbale is a Latin American drum. It consists of a single shell played with sticks. There are two categories of timbales: traditional and modern.

In traditional timbales, the lowest drum is called the Fundimento. It is played with a stick in each hand, and has a very low pitch. The next highest drum is the Tenor Timbale. It also has one stick per hand, but has a higher pitched sound. The last drum in the set is the Soprano Timbale, which has no sticks and only a high pitch sound.

In modern timbales, all of the drums have sticks and all have similar sounds. The drums can be interchangeable depending on the musician’s preference. Some use all of the traditional Fundimentos and Tenors, but add Sopranos to get a higher pitched sound.


Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

Next on our list is the Bamblek. This drum is from northern regions of Norway. It is traditionally played in folk music genres, like jazz.

Because it is a more modern drum, the Bamblek can be played with electronic beats or programmed beats. Many people use it in concerts to back up singers or dancers as a way to incorporate dance and music styles.

Like many other drums, the Bamblek can have different dimensions and thicknesses depending on the maker. The thickness changes the tone of the drum, so you can pick which you like best!

This drum is typically made out of wood and covered in leather. The leather comes in different colors, so that can also add a bit of style to it.


Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

A berimbao is a single-headed drum from Brazil. It is used in Carnivale music, as well as for traditional dance.

Unlike other drums, the berimbao does not have a drum head. Instead, it has a wooden stick called a baqueta that sticks out of the bottom of the barrel shape.

This gives it its unique sound as the baqueta hits the wall of the barrel. It also requires more skill to play as you must hit both the inside and outside of the barrel at the same time.

Berimbaus can be made of different types of wood depending on the desired sound. The darker and richer the wood, the deeper and more sustained the tone will be. Waxed leather wraps protect the inner walls of the drum, helping to keep its shape while playing.


Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

A drum from Yorubaland in southwestern Nigeria is known as the dununba. It is a barrel-shaped drum with a very strong sound.

Dununbas can be played solo or in a group, making them an important instrument in traditional Yoruba dance. The dance often features moving to the beat of the drum and changing instruments frequently.

Like many drums, the dununba has different tones when struck at different points along the rim or shell of the drum. By striking certain points, you can play different rhythms.

Dunnabanbebe (small dununbas) are sometimes used as auxiliary instruments to add more sound to the rhythm. They are usually placed on top of the large dununba to help contribute to the rhythm.


Exploring World Percussion: 8 Unique Drums from Different Cultures

A cajon is a box-shaped percussion instrument. It is known for its low to mid-range sound, and its constant beat or steady rhythm.

Cajons are popular in salsa music due to the constant beat the instrument provides. The cajon is played with either a stick or the hands. Since it has a tight-fitting internal drum, the sounds are amplified.

The body or top of the cajon is made of wood, while the internal drum is usually metal. The felt on the inside of the cajon helps dampen the sound and helps to produce a specific sound. The thickness of the felt changes the sound as well.

There are many different types of cajons, some even having two drums inside of them. These are known as double-bottom cajons and have a more bass heavy sound due to the additional internal drum.

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