World of Percussion: Drumming as an Instrument of Expression

World of Percussion: Drumming as an Instrument of Expression

Drumming has done yeoman service as a signifier of primal energy, primitive instincts, and earthy authenticity. For centuries, drummers have been the grooviest members of any band, and these players continue to be some of the most visible musicians in popular culture.

The truth is that drums are not only an excellent instrument for expressing primal energy but also a versatile one capable of producing many different sounds. From Timpani to Djembe, many kinds of drums have unique sound properties.

There is no one way to play the drum; what matters most is how you express yourself while playing it. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to percussion instruments. Read on to learn more about the world of drums and other percussive elements that may open up new creative pathways for you as a musician.

Why is Drumming Such an Effective Form of Expression?

Drums are special instruments because they are pure sound generators. They can produce sound without any external assistance, unlike most other instruments that rely on a vibrating string, reed, or column of air for their sound production.

Drums are naturally occurring sound generators made from animal hides stretched over a wooden resonator. When you hit the hide with a drumstick or your hand, you transfer energy from your body into the drum. This energy produces sound waves that travel through the air and are heard by anyone within hearing distance.

Drums can express a wide range of emotions because they are such pure vibration generators. They are not just one thing – they are everything at the same time. They can produce low frequencies that make you feel safe and grounded while simultaneously delivering high frequencies that create a heightened sense of awareness and alertness.

Vibration: The Core Element of Percussion Instruments

Vibration is the core element of all percussion instruments. When you strike a drum, it vibrates at certain frequencies, which are heard as sound. The frequency of a sound is the number of vibrations per second. A low-frequency sound has fewer vibrations per second than a high-frequency sound.

The vibration of a drum is measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz). The fundamental frequency of a drum is the lowest vibration that it produces. When you hit a drum, you make it vibrate at its fundamental frequency. But you also create other vibrations at higher frequencies.

These are called harmonics or overtones. Drummers use two types of vibration on their drums: Primary vibration occurs when your stick strikes the drum. Secondary vibration occurs when the drum responds to the energy you put into it. Different parts of the drum create different secondary vibrations. The head creates the fundamental frequency, while the rim creates higher frequencies.

What Are the Different Types of Drums?

  • Timpani: The Big, Booming Bass Drum – The timpani is a large drum that is hit with two mallets and is used to create a deep, booming sound. It is often used in orchestral music, paired with a high-pitched snare drum to create a balanced sound. The timpani is a common instrument in the symphony orchestra, where the timpanist sits behind the conductor and drums on the drum with a pair of long wooden sticks.

Due to its size, a timpani is not something you can easily transport to gigs. But if you are lucky enough to play in an orchestra, there is a good chance you will get an opportunity to play this big drum from time to timpani.

  • The Djembe and Tambourine: A Revered Partnership – The djembe and tambourine are a revered partnership that has been associated with the ceremonial and celebratory aspects of drumming for hundreds of years.

The tambourine sits on top of the djembe and shakes with the drum’s vibrations, adding a subtle shaker sound that adds complexity to the overall sound.

The tambourine and djembe have been used in various musical contexts and are especially prevalent in folk and cultural music. The sound of the tambourine and djembe can be heard in everything from Flamenco music to rock, soul and R&B.

  • Conga: An Instrument with a Lot of Depth and Variation – The conga is a single-headed drum with a wide, cylindrical shape. It is played with two thin sticks and is associated with Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.

The conga can be played solo or in a group and comes in many sizes. The larger the conga, the lower the fundamental frequency. The conga has a lot of depth and variation in its sound.

You can hit the drum with different areas of your stick or play the rim to create distinct overtones. You can also use your hands to create different sounds.

  • Talking Drums: An Ancient Technique with a Modern Twist – The talking drum is an ancient technique with a modern twist. The drummer places his mouth on the drumhead and blows air into the drum while simultaneously hitting the drum.

The drumhead vibrates with the air, and the vibrations are transferred to the drum. This creates a sound similar to playing a synthesiser. The technique is used by various music artists, including the band Talking Heads.

Talking drums are used in West African music, especially in the genres of Highlife and Soukous. The technique is also used in Latin American music, including Salsa and Latin Jazz.


Drums are a wonderful instrument that can express many different things, from joy to sorrow to anger. This is especially beneficial for children as it helps build creative thinking skills during their formative years.

There are many types of drums that allow a drummer to experiment with different sounds and create unique music. Learning about the different kinds of drums and how to play them is vital if you want to play them.

If you are looking to learn drums in Singapore, consider signing up for drum set classes with Drum Tutor. Our music programs are developed by the renowned drummer Er Chow Kiat with classes personalised to every student’s learning pace.

Develop proper drumming techniques whilst having fun! Drop us a message to get started on your drumming journey.