drum, in music, percussion instrument, known in various forms and played throughout the world and throughout history. Essentially a drum is a frame over which one or more membranes or skins are stretched. The frame is usually cylindrical or conical, but it comes in many other shapes. It acts as a resonator when the membrane is struck by the hand or by an implement, usually a stick or a whisk. The variety of tone and the volume of sound from a drum depend on the area, tension, and material of the membrane that is struck and, more particularly, on the skill of the player. The rhythmic effects of drum playing can be exceedingly complex, especially the intricate polyrhythmic arrangements of Asian and African cultures. The modern orchestra may have as many as five drums under one player, allowing an impressive range of tones. In Western music the kettledrum is of special importance. A metal bowl with a membrane stretched over the open side, it is the only drum that can be tuned to a definite pitch. It originated in Persia and spread throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe; it was later adapted into orchestral music. The kettledrum was formerly tuned by hand screws placed around the edge; now it can be tuned by a pedal mechanism. The bass drum, especially popular in military bands, is a huge wooden cylinder with a drumhead (membrane) on both ends. The snare drum (sometimes called the side drum) also has a drumhead at either end; across one end are stretched gut strings wound with wire. These strings rattle when the other end of the drum is beaten. The tenor drum is primarily used in military bands and is normally played with small felt sticks. The tambourine, known from Roman times, is a single-headed small drum, usually with jingles attached to the frame; it is shaken and struck by hand.
See R. S. Brindle, Contemporary Percussion (1970); J. Blades, Percussion Instruments and Their History (rev. ed. 1975).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.