Here’s some groovy insight into hand drum anatomy!

The drum is a member of the percussion group of music instruments technically classified as the “membranophone”.

A membranophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane.

Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player’s hands, or with a drumstick, to produce sound.

Playing the djembe and ashiko hand drums as we do in class our focus is on making the notes called the “base”, “tone” and “slap”.

These notes are the backbone of hand drum music including that of African, Afro-Cuban and freestyle rhythms.

Drums are the world’s oldest and most commonly-found musical instruments, and the basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

Some styles of drums are considered “untuned instruments” that are set to a certain pitch; many styles of drums are tunable, such as any using ropes or tension rods.

Some examples of roped-tuned drums include the djembe, ashiko, bougarabou, and talking drums.  There are some types of drums that can be either tunable or non-tunable, the Irish bodhran is an example.

Bodhran

Bodhran

Djembe shells

Djembe shells

The shell almost invariably has a circular opening over which the drumhead is stretched, but the shape of the remainder of the shell varies widely.
In the western musical tradition, the most usual shape is a cylinder.
Some drums use bowl-shaped shells, such as kettledrums or timpani.

Other shapes include a frame design (tar, bodhran), truncated cones (bongo drums, ashiko), goblet shaped (djembe), and joined truncated cones (talking drum).

Drums with cylindrical shells can be open at one end (as is the case with timbales), or can have two drum heads.
Single-headed drums normally consist of a skin which is stretched over an enclosed space, or over one of the ends of a hollow vessel.
Drums with two heads covering both ends of a cylindrical shell often have a small hole somewhat halfway between the two heads; the shell forms a resonating chamber for the resulting sound.
Exceptions include the African slit drum, also known as a log drum, as it is made from a hollowed-out tree trunk, and the Caribbean steel drum, made from a metal barrel.

Steel Drum

Steel Drum

Drums with two heads can also have a set of wires, called snares, held across the bottom head, top head, or both heads, hence the name snare drum.

Log Drum

Log Drum

On modern band and orchestral drums, the drumhead is placed over the opening of the drum, which in turn is held onto the shell by a “counterhoop” (or “rim”), which is then held by means of a number of tuning screws called “tension rods” which screw into lugs placed evenly around the circumference.
The head’s tension can be adjusted by loosening or tightening the rods.
Many such drums have six to ten tension rods. When the tension is increased, the amplitude of the sound is reduced and the frequency is increased, making the pitch higher and the volume lower.

The sound of a drum depends on several variables, including its shell (the shape, size and thickness); materials from which the shell was made; the drumhead; the tension of the drumhead; and the velocity and angle in which it is struck.

Ashiko drums

Ashiko drums.

The drum head has the most effect on how a drum sounds.

Each type of drum head serves its own musical purpose and has its own unique sound.
Thicker drum heads are lower-pitched and generally have a deep bass.
Thinner drum heads have a higher-pitched quality and sound sharper.

Goat skin for a djembe drum head.

Goat skin for a djembe drum head.

Different drum sounds have different uses in music.
Take, for example, the modern Tom-tom drum.
A jazz drummer may want drums that sound crisp, clean, and a little on the soft side, whereas a rock and roll drummer may prefer drums that sound loud and deep.
Since these drummers want different sounds, their drums will be constructed a little differently.

Jazz Drum Kit

Jazz Drum Kit

The type of shell also affects the sound of a drum.

Because the vibrations resonate in the shell of the drum, the shell can be used to increase the volume and to manipulate the type of sound produced.

The larger the diameter of the shell, the lower the pitch wholesome sound while mahogany raises the frequency of low pitches and keeps higher frequencies at about the same speed.

When choosing a set of shells, a jazz drummer may want smaller maple shells, while a rock drummer may want larger birch shells.

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