The Role of the Drums in Rock, Jazz, Blues & Classical

Oct 30, 2019

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring the role of several instruments in the genres of rock, jazz, blues, and classical. The point we’ve been trying to make is that while many instruments are common to a few, specific musical styles, no instrument is confined to those genres. Any instrument can alter it’s style or technique, and fit into any style of music imaginable – all you need is a little knowledge and creativity!

As we’ve investigated this topic, we’ve looked at the piano, guitar, and bass, showing how each of them can adapt to the needs of the music. This week we’ll be wrapping this topic up with a group of instruments that’s a little different from the one’s we’ve already surveyed. While each of the previous instruments are well known for a few different genres – and can adapt to fit into others – today’s group of instruments is found throughout basically every genre of music, in nearly every era and culture in human history: the drums.

No matter the style of music, drums have always been used to keep the tempo and work as the fundamental backbone of every musical group. That said, they have many ways of doing this.

Rock Drums

Rock and roll began to appear during the 1940s and ‘50s, and brought with it a revolution in popular music. It kicked off a new era of music and established new ways of using old instruments. The traditional leading instruments, like the piano and saxophone, faded from use, while others came into the spotlight – specifically the guitar and drums.

When the first foot-operated bass drum pedal was introduced in the early 20th century, the first drum kits started to come into use, and rock started to see a rise in popularity. The first basic rock drum kits used only one snare drum, one bass drum, one or more tom-toms, and any number of cymbals and hi-hats. Over time this configuration changed as each drummer created their own, personalized setup.

Throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, the drum kit continued to be experimented with and expanded. More recently, the appearance of electric drums and computer driven music have applied a little pressure on traditional drummers. Today, most rock drummers have scaled their kits back to the standard four-piece set, and continue to popularize the drums across genres.

Jazz Drums

Though jazz developed somewhat alongside rock, and there are many similarities, it’s still a very different animal. Freedom has always been at the heart of jazz, and it’s seen as an uncompromising style of music. Learning to play jazz is a great way to broaden any musician’s musical horizons, learn new ways to drum, and have some fun playing some really interesting music. And since improvisation is a big component of jazz, it helps with your creativity too.

One major difference between drumming for jazz as opposed to other genres, is that in jazz, drummers usually prefer to use brushes instead of traditional drum sticks. These brushes are usually made of metal or plastic. Brushes allow jazz drummers to express ideas in a unique way – a way that just can’t be achieved with standard sticks. First appearing in the 1920s, brushes decrease the sound created by the snare drums, which was very handy in the early days of jazz, when it was played in small bars and rooms. The brushes create a sort of ghostly sound as they’re softly stroked across the drum.

There are all sorts of different kinds of brushes: retractable, mental or plastic, woven metal, etc. Each has its own use and technique.

Blues Drums

Music is, of course, a very emotional expression. That said, blues music is an especially emotional form of music. The emotion it usually focuses on is, unsurprisingly, sadness or longing, and the drummer needs to understand how best to represent this feeling. While rock often requires a lot of hammering on the snare drum with all your force, that sort of playing just won’t do to convey a feeling of loneliness and despair. Instead, blues drummers show a lot of restraint and control over their power.

While a blues drummer will often use a kit similar to one used for rock, in blues, the real voice of the percussion section is the bass drum, often expressed with a stead stream of quarter notes. Once again, the blues are all about “feeling,” so these bass drum quarter notes are done with a measure of restraint.

In blues music, the drums are a fairly simple instrument that uses a linear style, meaning they only use one “voice” at a time. As a drummer, the blues can be both fun and easy, but the hardest part may be resisting the urge to show off! Blues drummers take it slowly and keep it simple!

Classical Drums

One thing that separates classical drumming from the rest of the genres we’ve explored is that the drum kit is very rarely used in classical music. Instead, a wide range of percussion instruments make up the section, with a number of musicians playing each. These instruments usually include timpani, snare drums, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and the tambourine, among others.

Another major difference is that while the percussion section still acts as the backbone or foundation of the orchestra, most classical pieces written for the full orchestra since the time of Haydn and Mozart place emphasis on the strings, woodwinds, and brass. Instead, the percussion section is used to provide additional accents. As a matter of fact, the use of more percussion instruments in classical compositions didn’t become more frequent until the 20th century.

As one of the most popular instruments for modern and classical musicians, the drums can be found in basically every genre of music, from tribal songs to modern rock and pop.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to play the drums, but haven’t gotten around to learning yet, now is your chance! Drum lessons at The Music Studio aren’t just for kids or beginners – they’re for everyone of every age and skill level!

Don’t hesitate to begin – or continue –  your musical journey today, with The Music Studio!