Percussion  snare drum

The Percussion family includes a variety of instruments that provide the pulse for music groups. Percussion players learn to play several instruments. Percussion instruments come in two varieties – those that are “pitched” and those that are “non-pitched”.

“Pitched” percussion instruments include the Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Tubular Bells and the Timpani, a large drum that can produce different pitches as the skin (top) is tightened.

“Non-pitched” percussion instruments include the Bass Drum and the Snare Drum, as well as the Triangle, Cymbals, Gong, and Tambourine.

Beginning Drums and Percussion

Drums are made of skins stretched across a circular body or “shell”, which is usually made of wood. When the skin is struck, it vibrates, causing the air inside the shell to vibrate. Drums with smaller bodies have a higher sound, while those with larger bodies create louder, deeper sounds. Drummers may use fingers or hands to strike the drums, or a variety of different types of sticks, such as soft-headed bass drumsticks, wooden snare drumsticks or wire brushes.

While percussionists learn to play several instruments, in school bands most start with the Snare Drum and a set of Bells.

The Snare Drum has a set of wires strung across the bottom, which makes a rattling sound. It also has a snare switch, which can turn off the snares, so that the drum produces only a dull thud. Snare Drums are versatile. In marching bands, they are carried at the waist, while in other situations they are mounted on a stand. To keep the sound level down while they are learning the basics, beginning drummers use a “practice pad”, a small pad that gives the feel of the snare drum.

The Bells are a small version of the Glockenspiel. Metal pieces of varying lengths are mounted on a wooden frame and struck with a mallet. The longer the length of the metal piece, the lower the sound. The pieces are arranged like a piano keyboard and usually have the note names indicated on each bar.

Drums in Music

Percussion plays an important role in most types of musical groups – orchestras, concert bands, marching bands, jazz bands, rock bands and in groups that play other types of pop and world music. Occasionally, drum players may “take a solo”, but primarily they provide a critical rhythmic foundation.

Snare drums can provide a range of rhythms – from a basic pulse to cool pop rhythms to a “drum roll”.

Shopping For Drums:  Percussion Sets for School Band

For school band, most beginning percussion students will need a set of Bells, a Practice Pad, and a Snare Drum. Most school music groups will provide other percussion instruments, but some percussion players may eventually want their own sets. Check with the band director to see what is needed.

Shopping for Drums: Drum Sets

If learning drums to play jazz, rock or other popular music, a beginner can start with a Bass Drum, Snare Drum and Ride or Hi-Hat Cymbals. They will, however, eventually want a full set of 4 or 5 or more pieces. Buying the pieces in a package can offer a good value. A 4-piece set can be adequate for jazz or rock. A 5-piece set adds another Tom to expand the range. So a basic drum set includes:

  • Bass Drum (with a foot pedal)
  • Snare Drum (with a stand)
  • 1- 2 Tom-Toms (with mount)
  • Floor Tom (with legs or stand)
  • Bass Drum (with a foot pedal)
  • Snare Drum (with a stand)
  • 1- 2 Tom-Toms (with mount)
  • Floor Tom (with legs or stand)

Cymbals may be included in a set, but are often sold separately. A full set typically includes:

  • Ride Cymbal (with stand)
  • Crash Cymbal (with stand)
  • 2 Hi-Hat Cymbals (with stand and clutch)

If you are buying a set, focus on the sound of the Snare Drum and Hi-Hat. Be sure to get all of the hardware you will need. Usually, this will be included in a set.

Used drums can be a good option. If considering used drums, it’s best to have an experienced drummer check it out for you. Make sure all the pieces are there. Check to be sure all of the drums have both the top and bottom heads and all of the tuning lugs in place. Look for the drums to be in good condition overall- the drumheads, exterior finish, and hardware.

Another option is to buy an electronic set with rubber or mesh pads. These can be used with headphones for practicing, a mixing board for recording or a sound system for performing. They can create a huge variety of sounds, which can be a lot of fun.

Also, it’s fun to collect different types of rhythm instruments, including a variety that are used in folk, pop and world music.

Drum Accessories:  What Else You’ll Need

A music stand and metronome are recommended for all instrumentalists. Depending on how and where your drums will be played, cases may be a good investment. If you are playing a drum set, you will need a seat.

A drummer will also need a drum key (for tuning and adjusting drum heads) and drumsticks.

Drumsticks come in different types and sizes, which usually include a letter and a number. The letter indicates the type of music it is designed for – for example, “A” is for orchestral (or more acoustic) music, “B” for band, and “S” for “Street” music, such as marching band. The number indicates the circumference, with smaller numbers generally indicating greater circumference. Teachers often recommend “2B” size for beginners.

Drum Care and Maintenance

Because the drum shells are wooden, drums should be kept in a dry spot out of direct sunlight. Avoid temperature extremes and if the drums have been in the cold, let them warm up gradually before playing. If you are transporting them, keep drums and cymbals in cases.

Drum heads may need to be replaced at some time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding cleaning and supplies for your drums and cymbals.


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