To the origins of the Drum.

The musical instrument of crossbreeding and modernity.

The drum set is a descendant of the ancestral and multicultural history of percussion instruments, one of the oldest families of musical instruments in the world. It is composed of a bass drum around which are initially associated: a snare drum derived from the European ordinance drum, cymbals from Turkey, China and India and toms close to the ritual drums used on all continents.

The term drums clearly specifies a notion of ensemble, like the kitchen set, cannons, etc. The term also designates the musicians who play on the percussion desk in a classical orchestra or in the drumline.

A young musical instrument, the drum set is only a hundred years old...

Born with Jazz, the drums participate in the evolution of popular music to become the heart of the sound of today's music. Born from the borrowing of ancestral cultures by diverting the traditional use of ethnic percussion, the drum set is the result of the technical and cultural upheavals of the 19th century.

In the USA, the Drums set or Drums kit are initially named Trap Kit. The term Trap is the reduction of the term contraption which, in French, can be translated by the expression "machin". Would the first drums be finally a set of "things" and "bidules"?

In France, they were initially called a Jazz-Band, then a Jazz, like the music...

The first drummers moved away from the marching bands to play in small bands on street corners, but also in bars, dancings, music halls... They also perform as an attraction at funfairs, in circuses and in the cinema to create sound effects for silent films until 1927... A single percussionist gathers the instruments around him and achieves the amazing feat of doing by himself what is usually produced by three musicians. He invents new techniques, he creates a gesture and new rhythms... Thanks to the pedals, the drummer becomes a one-man band. He plays with his four limbs and differentiates himself from the percussionist. He has now the mission to realize polyrhythms and to propose a multitude of sound colors...

With the snare drum, the bass drum and the toms, the instruments of the modern drum set are now united. It is then, with the improvement of the hardware, that is to say the various feet and fixings of its elements, that the drums evolve. In 1942, Slingerland again, proposes with its Radio King models a bass tom with sliding feet fixed on the shell.

In 1952, appears a mobile stem fixed on a banana-shaped tube which is transformed thereafter with a ball joint. This concept was already initiated by ASBA with the Be-bop drum set in 1948. It was not until 1959 that the Rogers brand proposed a perfectly articulated stem system. In 1963, the size of the drums became the international standard: the inch. The sizes retained are 12,13,14,16 inches. 1 inch is equal to 2.54 cm.

In the 70's, the majority of drums are proposed with 5 drums: three toms of 12,13,16, a snare drum of 14 and a bass drum of 20 or 22 inches. A double bass drum could also be considered.

In 1978, the Remo brand invented the RotoTom which is mounted on a frame and a steel chassis without a drum. By rotating the frame on an axis, one can vary the pitch of the note. They are offered in diameters from 6 to 18 inches. A system close to the patent registered by Adolphe Sax in 1852 proposes a set of cymbals made of a metal circle without any resonance box. It is indeed the diameter and not the depth of the shell that determines the pitch of the notes.

In 1980, the English brand Arbiter also made a very transportable drum set with this concept. In the 80's, brands manufactured drums of different depths. The French Jacques Capelle drums offer so-called Turbo drums, with a bass drum twice the usual depth. 

The innovation continues with the Rims system which allows to hang the drums with the help of a suspension fixed in the tie rods, at the level of the strapping, without piercing the drums.

Today, many drummers are also adept at using a snare drum tripod to support the midrange tom, without a bracket attached to the bass drum. Clamps allow to fix all the elements of the drum kit on a Rack inspired by those already used in the 30s.

Discover the history of the elements of a drum set

This short history of drums was written by Philippe Nasse.

Drummer, exhibition curator and film director, Philippe is the author of the exhibition "Roll & Swing" at the MuPop, Museum of Popular Music in Montluçon. He is preparing a book on the history of ASBA and another book on the birth of drums in France. He proposes a conference show and a travelling exhibition "Faut que ça swing' !" on the history of the drums..

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List of pages in The history of drums: