Exploring Drum Music

This is an integrated resource, suitable for Key Stage 3, which combines individual research with creative activities in the classroom. It focuses on the spirit and purposes of drumming, rather than on the performance of specified rhythmic patterns. It would be ideal if the topic could be shared between Music and ICT departments, with the latter supporting the pupils’ internet-based research. A number of Web links are provided at the end of the resource and visits to these sites will be most fruitful if pupils are able to download audio and video clips, with access to the appropriate playback applications. Each pupil should record the location of online information that interests them and/or create a folder in which to save downloads. Later they will be invited to share their discoveries under one of the following headings:

drumming in early history

drumming in the music of various countries/regions

drums in pop/rock music

types of drums and how they are made

examples of drum music used for specific purposes,

e.g. to accompany street processions, to communicate messages


After the topic has been introduced, (perhaps towards the end of a lesson), pupils should be given time to gather information about drumming in history, in popular music, and in the music of other cultures. This is an ideal opportunity for pupils from diverse cultural backgrounds to share their knowledge and experience. Other sources of information may be libraries, the radio and promotional materials for concert performances and workshops by drumming ensembles. A few thoughts about drumming are given here to suggest ways into the topic.

Some Thoughts on Drumming

Drumming was one of the first forms of music-making. It remains a universal phenomenon: practically everyone drums, even if it’s only with fingers on the desktop, while the mind grapples with some problem. Babies drum on their high-chairs with hands, a spoon, or anything else available to them.

Nowadays, when we refer to a drum, we usually mean an instrument with a stretched membrane, struck with the hands or with a beater. The first drums are more likely to have been hollow tree trunks and wooden drums are found, to this day, in some parts of the world. A drum could be any surface that yielded a satisfying sound when struck, even the musician’s own body.

Each drum has its own ‘voice’, or timbre. Sometimes personalities are ascribed to drums and they are said to talk and even to cast spells.

The sound quality is vitally important to the message being conveyed by a ‘talking drum’ and professional drummers, in all genres, go to great lengths to select and tune their drums for particular musical purposes.

Drums may be introduced into a piece of music for a variety of reasons, including underlining a rhythm, adding excitement, creating a surprise.

Sharing Discoveries

Once everyone has had time to gather information, arrange a session, in which pupils are invited to share what they have found out about drums/ drumming under the various headings given above.

Making Music Through Drums

a) Explore the drumming resources available to the class - the school’s instrument collection, synthesised drum sounds, items of classroom furniture, the pupils’ own bodies.

b) Working in pairs, each playing a different ‘drum’, pupils improvise’ questions and answers’. They should try to follow the rhythms of speech and to ‘converse’ with feeling.

b) Individual players should each find two different drum sounds with which to improvise, dividing rhythmic patterns between the two instruments. Working individually, it will be possible to produce more complex combinations of sound.

c)Working in pairs, each partner should try to imitate the patterns of high/low notes played by the other. Alternatively, one player can be imitated by the whole class.

d) Improvise in groups. One player should start, with others joining in as they wish. Each subsequent contribution should be a response to something that has already been played. This response could take a variety of forms - imitation, contrast, varied repetition, e.g., playing the music of a high drum on a low one, or playing with a different dynamic.

e) In groups, create drum music for the following purposes:

to send messages

to over-awe enemies or subjects

to express rejoicing, exuberance

to support dancers,

to accompany a drama

If desired, the music can be recorded in graphic notation.

If possible, record the performances and discuss the suitability of the music for its purpose

Web Resources

The Drum Page-History

history of drums, examples of some of the rhythms used for drum-kits in popular music.

Electronic Talking Drums
African talking drums for the MIDI age.

Lark in the Morning

Sells a huge range of ethnic drums. You can listen to sound clips of some of them.

Tiger Bill’s DrumBeat
Links to information about many different types of drum

The History of the Frame Drum
includes bodhran and tambourine

Teachings of the Drum - Drums in the culture of Native North Americans

Free Online Drum rhythm Lessons

Copyright 2003. Audrey Podmore

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