Percussion is known to have been around since the beginning of civilization, in all cultures and all major civilizations around the world. In 6000 B. C. , the first time of a percussion instrument was evolved, and it was simply anything that could be found that could be hit together to create a sound. Percussion instruments have been used and associated with strong ceremonial, sacred, or symbolic events. For example, in Africa, drums symbolize and protect tribal royalty. The drums symbolize a family, sharing the same blood and feelings.
The drums were are used to communicate through the villages and used as a type of language to transmit messages. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the snare drum was used in the infantry to send coded instructions to the soldiers. Some of the earliest percussion instruments are quite similar to modern percussion instruments in simplistic ways. There were many different types of percussion instruments used in each culture around the world. The first membrane drums are said to be consisted of a hollowed out tree trunk covered at one or both ends with the skins water animals, fish, or reptiles (mammals not yet used for skin).
Later, the skins of hunted cattle were used. The bodies of the drums were usually made of wood, metal, earthenware, or bone. The heads were fastened onto the body by glue, nails, or wooden pegs. Sometimes, the head would be laced or lapped to the body of the drum. In every culture, you can find numerous representations of drums, in a variety of all shapes and sizes that can be found in the art of Egypt, Southern Africa, Assyria, India, Samaria, China, and Persia. The Greeks and Romans possessed membrane drums.
Small kettle drums (also known as akers, nakeres, nacara, or nacaries) and tabors of Arabic or Saracenic origin arrived in Europe in the 13th century crusades. Many of our modern percussion instruments have roots in Africa. Africans brought their drums and rhythms to the West during the slave trade, and a lot of modern music, styles, and instruments have evolved from that time period. Even though we have modernized these instruments, they still remain almost the same in Africa. They still collect and use natural materials found in the village, hollowed out tree trunks, animal skins, dried seeds, gourds, shells, etc.
There is never any fiber glass being used, no synthetic drum heads, and no factories making these authentic drums. African drums are completely made by hand and using extremely simple tools. In an African drum ensemble, there are six main percussion instruments that make up a “family” within the ensemble. The Atsimevu, which is the lowest in the ensemble, is a large barrel drum about five feet long, and is played with a stick in one hand and one bare hand. This is the father or the mother of the ensemble and leads the ensemble with cues.
The aunt/uncle would be the Sogo, a smaller drum deep in tone. The brother and sister is the kidi, a smaller high pitched drum, and the child is the cagan, a very small, high pitched sound that can be heard miles away. The axatse is a rattle that is used in the ensemble and is made out of a hollowed out gourd and is covered in laced shells to create the shaker noise. It is the blood of the family, keeping everything together and in time, flowing through every member of that family. The gankogui is a vibrating iron bell that is also played within the ensemble.
It has a large iron bell with a small one attached to it that is higher in pitch, representing a mother holding a baby. The Africans used their drums to communicate through the village. Each tone and sound had a different meaning, and represented a different thought. In traditional Australian Aboriginal cultures, percussion was utilized by hand clapping and leg slapping. Decorated drums were made from hollow logs and some were covered by reptile skins. Large conch shells were used in the Northern coastal areas for rattles. Percussion usage in the continent of Australia varies with each region.
One region only used hand clapping and sometimes a skin drum. Another region only used hand clapping and buttocks-slapping, or with paired sticks. A region in western Australia accompanied dancing with scraping an idiophone, or rasp. Some other forms of percussion within the Aboriginal tribes are beating bark or a skin bundle, or struck on the ground, boomerang clapsticks, hollowed log struck with sticks, lap slapping, rasp or friction, seed rattles, single headed skin drum (struck with open palm or stick), stick beaten on the ground, sticks only, and thigh slapping.
It is apparent to see that the Aborigines did not need many materials to create a percussive sound to accompany their traditional dancing and singing. In Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, Anklungs are used as rattles that have two or three bamboo tubes which are tuned in octaves. When you shake them, the tubes slide along grooves cut into the rectangular frame and strike the bamboo or wooden frame. In many traditional cultures, the bell has been used in the musical ensembles, just like the gankogui mentioned above. In each culture, the bell represents something different within the contexts.
It is made from a wide variety of natural and synthetic materials, like clay, wood, metals of all kinds, and animal hooves. There are two basic kinds of bells: one in which the body may be closed at one end and open at the other (also known as “cup” bells), and one in which it may be entirely closed and hollow, with a metal pellet inside (also called “crotals”). Some bells have “clappers” which are attachments inside the bell which strike the body when the bell is shaken. Wooden bells like the Chinese Temple Block do not have this clapper, so you must strike them from the outside with a hammer or a rod.
Bells tend to be extremely meaningful within a culture and among many traditions. Americans can think of our Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania, which represents for us, a symbol of our independence and pride. In Anishnaabek First Nations communities in America, the sound of a bell or a metallic percussion instrument symbolizes a more religious aspect. It is said that the first thoughts of the Creator was a shimmering bell-like sound and this was answered by the heartbeat or drumming of the earth as it was brought into creation. In Europe, bells also connect to a spiritual idea.
It is associated with forms of Christian worship and is used to signal ceremonial events, and is also used in performance. St. Patrick was said to have carried a bell into Ireland during the 5th century to help him perform miracles. In the Philippines, “tiger bells” were used, they are small brass bells and are often strung on dance girdles and belts, so they jingle when the people dance. In India about 3,000 years ago, women wore small copper bells around their ankles and necks. In China, the “chung” (bell) dates back to 4,000 B. C. and were considered to have spiritual power.
In Ancient Greece, clay bells were made in 2,000 B. C. , and bronze bells were made in at least 500 B. C. In roman culture, bells were used during dances, festivals, funerals, battles, and were hung as decorations on animals about to be sacrifices in religious ceremonies. As you can see, the bell was used in all cultures with all different meaning and symbolism. Another particular drum that has evolved extremely through out history would be the snare drum. The snare drum dates back to Medieval Europe in 1300, but was heavily influenced by African drums.
What modernized it and made it into the “snare” drum was that the Europeans would put a “snare” or snares on the bottom or top of their drum. Snares could be curled metal wire, metal cable, plastic cable, or gut chords that are stretched across the head of the drum. When the drum is hit, the vibrations resonate these snares giving the drum a certain “snap” sound. Back then, it was called a Tabor, pronounced “Tay-bur”. It was a double-headed drum that had a single snare stretched across. Now, in modern days of the snare drum, we use a strip of multiple snares bunched together to enhance that unique sound.
Tabors were not always double-headed, or had snares. They were mainly used first in war, often accompanied by a fife or a pipe, both played by one person. They were used by the powerful Ottoman Empire’s armies in the 1500s. The Ottomans possibly influenced Swiss drummers, which in turn influenced their local drum makers. These snare drums also became popular in the 1400s with the fife and bugle corps of Swiss soldiers for relaying signals. Back then, the snare drum was very large and had to be carried over the player’s right shoulder secured by a strap.
It had a lower tone to it and was march harder to play. This longer “side drum” became better known as the field drum. The drum heads were fastened in and tensioned by pulling a rope on the side. The method was to lace a cord in a W or a Y pattern around the shell. At the same time, the British was influenced by the Europeans and created similar drums by the 1500s, called a drome or drume. In the 1600’s, the snare drum matured more with the use of screws to hold down the snares, giving a brighter sound compared to the rattle of a loose snare.
This increase of tension made it easier for drummers to play faster and to play more complex rhythms. By the 1800s, the snare drum underwent changes to improve the character of its sound. Snare drums were now being built with brass and metal and was significantly reduced in size for a higher pitched, crisper sound that is now heard today in symphony orchestras and more modern ensembles. Classical music added the snare drum to provide color and timbre to the orchestra, and used for march-like segments of the music.
By the 19th century, snare drums replaced tenor drums in military bands and gained recognition within this genre. They were now being built with metal snares and the snare drum is directly connected to a classic military sound. Before radio and electronic communication was established, the snare drum was used to communicate orders to the soldiers. American troops were woken by the drum and fife, playing about five minutes of music including a well known piece called the Three Camps. Troops were also called to meals by certain drum pieces like “Peas on a Trencher” and “Roast Beef”.
A piece called “Tattoo” was used to signal that all soldiers should be in their tent and “The Fatigue” was used to call the quarters or drum unruly women out of the camp. Within this military drumming came rudimental drumming, and they are closely tied. This “rudimental” drumming consisted of patterns that formed the basic blocks of or “vocabulary” of drumming. These patterns were combined in an endless variety of ways to create an amazing piece or song. The origin of rudiments are said to be traced back to Swiss mercenaries which used long polearms to defend themselves.
The commands were given were from a tabor, which was used because the sound cut through and could be heard above the battlefield noise. This was used to set the tempo and communicate commands to pikers. Short sustain sounds produced by the drum allowed the armies to produce easily distinguished patterns that were used to convey different formation commands with the polearms. These commands became the basis of snare drum rudiments. The first written rudiment goes back to the year 1610 in Basel, Switzerland, and revolutionized in France, in the 17th and 18th centuries, where professional drummers became part of the King’s honor guard.
This rudimental drumming was perfected during the reign of Napoleon I. After 1900, the snare drum became extremely popular after the rise of drum and bugle corps. Metal counter-hoops were added to tighten the drum heads in a more efficient way, used small screws around the head that individually tightened different parts of the drum equally. Drum keys came into use and were simply small metal tools that fit into the screws to tighten the drum head and change the pitch. Coiled wire came into use for the snares.
It was the influence and popularity of drum and bugle corps that allows snare drums, as well as bass drums, and tenor drums to really take rise. Companies took on the manufacturing of these drums, drum heads, harnesses for marching with the instruments, and sticks to play them with. Some well known companies that have prospered with this rise of popularity is Pearl, Adams, Yahama, Vic Firth, Ludwig, Innovative Percussion, and more. These drums come in many styles, designs, and colors. Drum and Bugle corps influenced many players to take on the snare drum as a solo instruments.
Competitions for who can play the best solo snare drum arose all around the country and the winners of these competitions are highly noted musicians. One of the most accomplished snare soloist in most recent years is Nicholas Haydn (who currently is a student at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth MA), who won the title championship 2 years in a row. The snare drum was also highly notable for its use in a trap set. Traps were a mixture of all drums, percussive instruments, and cymbals that were assembled into a set of drums or drum set. These were all organized so that one person could play them all at once.
One foot controls a drum, the other foot controls a cymbal, and your hands are free to move where ever you would like. Generally, the drum set consists of a bass drum, snare drum, tom-toms, hi-hat cymbals, ride cymbals, and crash cymbals. There are usually three tom-toms (two rack toms and one floor tom), and one of each of the other drums, for the most part. The drum set has been used in everything and anything, including silent movies, jazz, ragtime, rock and roll, hip hop, R;B, ska, reggae, classical, Showtime, Broadway, and even interpreted into other world music cultures.
In each genre, the drum set is utilized in a different way. Rock drummers, for example, use a lot of cymbals and tom-toms to create fills and more variations and some use a double bass pedal simultaneously to create a heavy sound and pace. Rock and Roll emphasizes a lot on a steady back beat while Jazz is known to use the snare drum to comp, or support and interact with the other musicians in the band. In response to these popular music styles coming out and utilizing the drum in such significant ways, drum companies started to make different sizes and types of snare drums.
Like I said before, they began to manufacture marching snare drums which are longer and bigger and size, with a more sharp and piercing sound. Snares made for drum set are smaller and can fluctuate between a mellow, laid back sound, to a high pitched, “tight” sound. Since 1950, improvements to the snare drum have been made, like plastic drum heads and high quality snare throw-off mechanisms that have allowed the snare drum to have better sound control and dependability. The options for snare drum hardware available today is staggering with all the many technical advancements in materials, shell designs, and hardware.
Though, the modern drum is still very similar to the old snare drum centuries ago. Another extremely important aspect of percussion that is sometimes put on the back burner is cymbals. Cymbals have been around almost as long as the drum. Cymbals were made in biblical times to praise the lord. The people of that time used two brass bowls and made a loud banging noise, while also creating a rhythm. Cymbals have always been an accompanying instrument, even in the biblical times, where the cymbal players were always seen walking in procession with other musicians.
This is evident, even in the words from the bible: “Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. ” Psalm 150:5. Cymbals were mostly used in religious ceremonies in Ancient times, and different forms of cymbals were used in the ancient East. They were used in Israel by about 1100 B. C. , and did not appear in Egypt till around 800 B. C. Later on, cymbals were made by producing an almost flat cymbal, or they were made with a raised dome and then it would fall flat. Small finger cymbals are also made and they had a more bell-like tone quality.
Cymbals were introduced in the orchestra in the 17th century and are still involved today. Turkish military music contained cymbals parts during the 18th century. This helped the introduction of the cymbals into the orchestra. They gained a permanent position during the late part of the century. They are also manufactured today to march with in Drum and Bugle corps. Now, there are so many varieties, shapes, sizes, colors, tone, and timbres that can be purchased for drum set, drum and bugle corp, etc. Another underdog of the percussion world are mallet instruments.
Many would think that these instruments do not fall into the percussion field because they are melodic instruments, different from drums who only produce one sound at a time. Mallet instruments are considered percussion instruments because they are hit with mallets or sticks. These instruments include marimba, vibraphone, bells/ glockenspiel, and xylophone. In modern times, they all consist of wooden or metal frames, some smaller or bigger than others, musical keys made of rosewood or synthetic materials, and long metal resonators underneath each key.
For all mallet instruments, the musical keys are arranged like those on a piano. The accidentals are raised on a different horizontal plane than the naturals, except for the vibraphone where all the accidentals and naturals are on the same plane. The marimba is usually the largest instrument of the family, and has the largest range of notes, five octaves altogether in the biggest ones (more than five octaves is hard to find and very rare). It is pitched an octave lower than its cousin, the xylophone, which is a smaller instruments and plays very high registers.
Because of this, the keys are smaller to create a higher pitch and the sound can be heard from miles away. It is a very loud and piecing sound when played hard and because they keys are small, there is a lot of opportunity for rebound so that musician can play very fast. The keys of a marimba are mostly made out of wood, or synthetic materials like fiberglass. The xylophone is almost always seen with synthetic material, but can also be made out of rose wood. The change in shape between each key causes the bars to vibrate different and respond to a different set of overtones.
This gives the marimba a very rich,mellow sound. Usually with a marimba, one would use softer mallets made of yarn or corn, and with a xylophone, one would use hard mallets, made of plastic, rubber, or other hard synthetic materials. Here is a list that describes what kind of mallets that are used on certain keyboard instruments: (taken from http://en. wikiversity. org/wiki/Mallet_instruments#The_Marimba) * Yarn/Cord Balls for use on xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone * Rubber Balls for use on xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel * Wooden Balls for use on xylophone Brass/Aluminum Balls for use on glockenspiel * Plastic Balls for use on xylophone and glockenspiel The vibraphone (or “vibes”) is also part of the keyboard family. All the keys are made entirely of metal and the standard vibes has a range of three octaves. This instrument is most popular in the jazz world and is usually one of a four or five piece jazz group. The vibraphone also has metal resonators under each key, except in these resonators are small metal disks that are attached to a motor. When the motor is turned on (which can be ontrolled from the instrument itself, along with the speed of the motor), the disks turn at a certain speed, creating a “wah-wah-wah” effect, almost like a vibrato sound with a vocalist (hence: VIBRAphone). One strong characteristic of a vibraphone is that it also has a pedal, just like a piano, where you are able to sustain notes. This is one advantage the vibraphone has over the marimba and xylophone. The glockenspiel,“bells”, or “orchestra bells”, is a very small, portable keyboard. The keys are made of metal, and there are no resonators at all.
The keys are extremely high pitched and resonate for a very long time unless muted. Sometimes the bells can be mounted and used for marching with a band. Bells use mallets that are extremely hard, usually made of metal tips. You can see the bells a lot in orchestras and concert bands. In sheet music, the notes to be played by the glockenspiel are written two octaves lower than they will sound when played. When struck, the bars give a very pure, bell-like sound. The earliest mallet instruments were made of wood and were hand made.
The keys were made from wood, usually mahogany, and were shaved down until the desired tone was reached. Each tone bar has a specific pitch within the diatonic or chromatic scale. One of the oldest surviving mallet instruments is a stone marimba or lithophone that was discovered by French ethnologist, George Condominas near the village of Ndut Lieng Krak in Vietnam. The stone must have be chipped away to create a certain pitch. Before that though, the mallet instruments were probably made of wood, gourd, or other materials like that.
The first type of xylophone (in which the bible refers to as “ugab”) is known to be a fully developed wooden mallet instrument from 3500 B. C. Apparently, it was a portable instrument that was suspended on a frame over gourd or bamboo resonators. There are different versions of xylophones from all over the world, but mainly sourcing from Africa and the Orient culture. In Africa, the people would make these mallet instruments used hollowed out gourds for resonators and shaving wood for the tone bars. The “Marimba Sencillia” originates from the African xylophone.
It has about 45 Keys, each with a gourd resonator, and it was played by three to five players. It was said that the first chromatic Marimba was made by Jose Chaequin and Manuel Lopez. It was presented to the public in Guatemala in 1874. The chromatic Marimba was refined by Sebastian Hurtado. He replaced the gourd resonators with wooden cones that has one end covered with membrane. This six and a half octaves Marimba Grade is the national musical instrument of Guatemala. Today, mallet instruments are used in a number of settings, and gained extreme popularity through the drum corp activity.
The keyboard instruments, along with cymbals, bells, rattles, snare drums, tom-toms, bass drums, and almost all other percussion instruments have been with us for a very long time and have evolved into magnificent instruments that are used in all different kinds of settings and in all different kinds of music. They started out by people experimenting with natural materials and also experimenting with sounds, and what sounded good in the music of their culture. A lot of these percussion instruments have gained recognition through the drum corp activity, and through popular music like jazz and rock and roll.