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The History of Drums

Drums can be traced back millennia throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They appear in bas-reliefs of ancient Greece and Syria, in relief sculptures made by ancient Mesopotamian and Sumerian artists, and artifacts from China suggest that alligator skin drums were played there as far back as 5500 B.C. Iconography from ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures suggests that drums were used in many religious ceremonies and cultural gatherings. There is also evidence that hand drums and drums played with beaters evolved at the same time, and that as individual cultures developed drums, they developed specific styles of playing along with them. In fact, throughout history and all across the world, humans have found ways to fashion drum heads, usually out of animal skins. Some of the earliest known percussion instruments are idiophones made from mammoth bones found in present-day Belgium, which date from 70,000 B.C. Today’s drum frames have their roots in the musical instruments of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Both cultures created frame drums (drum heads stretched over a shallow wooden frame), the forebearers of 20th century snare drums and tom-toms. European kettle drums likely have their roots in Egyptian and Turkish cultures, and the classic bass drum can trace its roots to the Ottoman Empire. The five-piece drum kit that helped shape American jazz and rock music uses kick drums and double bass drums, both of which were adapted from the classical bass drum, and the snare drums have their origins in the side drums used by marching bands. The modern drum kit’s origins can be traced to early 20th century New Orleans, where jazz drummers like Warren "Baby" Dodds assembled a drum set using classical instruments, some of which they modified, such as the bass drum (in classical music the drummer plays it with handheld mallets, but in jazz and rock music, the drum rests on the floor and the drummer plays it using a drum pedal). Unlike most elements of drumming, the drum pedal has a single creator: William F. Ludwig of the Ludwig Drums company. Today, of course, drums of all kinds play a major role in music and culture all around the world.

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