African drum music would have to be one of the most vital, alive and emotional forms of music and percussion even in the 21st century.
There are many different types of different African drums. They come in a variety of shapes and produce a wide spectrum of different sounds. Here we’ll take a close look at some of the most common types of and explore their different traits and how they were used.
History Of African Drums
Need a quick intro to the history of African drums? The history of African drums centers on communication, community and dance. From the beginning, believed to be as early as 500 AD, drums throughout the African continent were used to communicate from one village to another, create a sense of community among members of a tribe and give everyone something to dance to. Indeed, the drum has come to symbolize Africa itself.
Most Popular African Drums
These drums have a special connection to certain peoples in Uganda as ceremonial instruments. Clearly defining what is or is not an ngoma drum is a little difficult, as the word ‘ngoma’ is Swahili for ‘drums’. The term is most often used for an ensemble of six or seven african drums of different sizes strapped together and played as a group.
It has an hourglass shaped body that it tuned using strings from one skin to the other. They are used to ‘talk’ by varying the tension on the drum heads. The middle of the drum is placed under you arm, which you can squeeze to make the tone higher and release to bring the tone lower, playing with a curved stick on one side and the hand and fingers on the other. It was interesting to see that you can change the notes through out playing and capture the rhythm of the human speech without words. They tend to translate single words into phrases to send the message through a drum beat.
The kpanlogo drum originates from the Greater Accra Region in West Africa and is also known as a ceremonial drum. Because of it’s excellent ability to create sounds that carry over long distances, kpanlogo rhythms were often used as a way to communicate between tribes and family groups.
It is a traditional rope tuned drum that originates from West Africa dance and music. The body is commonly hardwood with an untreated goatskin head. They range in sizes from 12” – 15” and produce a loud sound being played by your hands. The volume of the drum varies depending on how tight the skin tension is. There are 3 basic methods used when playing the Djembe, bass (low), tone (medium) and slap (high). They are played by varying the position and technique to create complex rhythms.
Tongue drums also called finger drums or hand drums are either round or box shaped pieces of material (usually wood) hollowed out with various tabs or “tongues” cut out on the surface so when the tongue is struck, a particular pitch will resonate out of the entire drum which qualifies the tongue drum as an idiophone. By cutting tongues of different lengths, you can get higher or lower pitches out of each one.
The Slit Drum is a hollow box shaped drum that has one or more slits on the top of it. They are thought to be the first drum that was created and are known to send messages through long distance communications as the sound can travel further. They are a resonating chamber because none of the sides except the slit are open. The slit (also known as the tongue) is hit using a mallet to project the pitch on the drum.