A World of Music: Drums

Oct 14, 2020

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been exploring some of the amazing variations to common instruments the wide world of music can bring us

We started our journey a few weeks ago when we discussed how the Spanish guitar is different, in both design and technique, from the guitar most of us are more familiar with. We followed that up with a look at the plethora of keyboard instruments found around the world.

This week let’s take a look at one of the oldest instruments the world has ever seen; the drum!

Today, most of us are familiar with the drum kit, but there are so many different kinds of percussion instruments that make up the rich world or drumming. So, let’s dive into some of the different kinds of drums the culture of the world have created!

Cajon (Box Drum)

Originally from Peru and traditionally played in Afro-Peruvian folk music, the cajon is usually played with the hands. That said, with modern playing, other implements like brushed can be used to create unique sound textures.

Basically a wooden box the performer sits on, the cajon is a simple drum with a big sound! In fact, it’s a remarkably versatile drum, and can be found in many contemporary musical genres, including jazz, folk, flamenco, and genres of Latin music.


The djembe is probably the most well-known of the world’s hand drums and has become very popular for drum circles and workshops. Originating in West Africa, the djembe is a rope-tuned, skin-covered, goblet-shaped drum, played with – you guessed it – your hands.

The djembe uses three basic sounds to create music: low (the bass tone created by striking the centre of the drum), medium, and high (a slap at the edge of the drum). A wide variety of sounds can be created from these basic forms by varying the position of the palms and fingers to produce different striking methods.


Batá drums were originally folkloric drums from the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, but they have extended into all sorts of Afro-Caribbean communities, most notably folk music in Cuba.

Each drum is hourglass shaped, and are usually performed as a set of 3, including the okonkolo (small/child), itotele (medium/father), and iya (big/mother), all of which contribute to complex melodies, poly-rhythms, and even conversations between the drums themselves!


The term “tabla” generally refers to a set of two drums, though only one of them is actually called the tabla, while the other is called the bayan. The two drums are played as a set using the fingers and palms in a range of patterns to create a huge variety of sounds and rhythms

The bayan is played with the left hand, while the tabla is played with the right hand. What’s more, they actually sound quite a bit different! The bayan is made of metal and is a larger and rounder drum that creates a deeper bass tone, while the table is thinner and straighter drum made of wood.

The tabla drums are most commonly associated with Indian classical music, but they have become more popular in a variety of contemporary musical styles as well.


Another well known hand drum is the conga. Mostly linked to Latin music, especially Afro-Cuban jazz, songo, salsa, merengue, and Latin rock, the congas are a wildly versatile instrument.

The basic techniques for playing the congas share many similarities to other hand drums. The main methods for playing use a combination of slaps, open tones, finger strokes, mutes, and other touches with different parts of the hands. What’s more, they can be played either as one drum on its own, or as a set of two (or even more!) congas of different tunings.

Usually, congas are played standing up, in a fixed position on a stand. However, in some cases they can be played when seated or with a strap.


The udu, originally from Nigeria, is just one example of clay pot drums, which are common in many cultures from around the world. Other examples include the ghatam from India and the botija from the Caribbean. One unique feature of clay pot drums like the udu is that the performer can add water to it to change the pitch!

The drum is played by striking the body of the instrument while striking or covering one or both of the drum’s holes.


Coming from Mali in West Africa, the dunun is a two-headed drum traditionally made from wood with goat or cow drum skin

This drum is usually played horizontally with a stand or a shoulder strap. The dunun is struck with a stick, and in some circumstances, the player holds a bell in one hand to accompany the drum patterns.


Another somewhat familiar percussion instrument that is common in cultures around the world is the maraca. Maracas are simply shakers or rattles, and usually hollow egg-shaped objects that contain something to make them rattle. Today, the rattling is usually made with some kind of plastic, but traditionally the instruments were made with small stones, balls of wood, seeds, or even leather.

The tone a set of maracas makes is influenced by the size and shape of the container, as well as the size, material, and number of the “rattlers” inside. That’s why there are literally thousands of variations and combinations in maraca construction and sound.

Drums, and percussion instruments in general, are a massive part of human history and culture. If drumming is a passion you’ve always wanted to express, start your journey with The Music Studio! Whether you’re interested in learning to play the drum kit, or more traditional hand drums, check out our lessons.

If bucket drumming is more your style, join us for one of our bucket drumming events!