When I was a young girl, I remember the first drum I
ever saw or heard was a little drum my brother got for
Christmas. He used to bang that thing all day long until
we would hide it because of all the noise. Back then I
could see no use for a drum at all except to drive us
all crazy! But when I became a little older, I used to
watch Leonard Bernstein on TV, a special Saturday
Children Hour. He would explain all the different
instruments & how they all worked together to harmonize
a piece of music, and he taught us to listen for the
individual instrument. Well, I started to hear how a
drum could be the heartbeat, so to speak, of music.
That's where the rhythm came from. Needless to say, I
began to respect the part of the drum in an orchestra
The drum is man's oldest
musical instrument. It expresses his instinctive love of
rhythm. It was also used as a means of communication. It
has been used as a center for ceremonial dances, as a
call to battle, or as a requiem for the dead. Much of
the force and vitality of popular music would be lost
without the rhythmic accent of the drums.
There are different kinds
of drums. There is the Field Drum, used in marching
bands, the Snare Drum, which provides rhythm in
orchestras, the Congo Drum, used in Latin American
music, the Bongo Drum used in folk and popular music,
the Bass Drum, and the Timpani, or kettledrums.
So a drum is a musical
instrument that is played by percussion, or striking
Most drums do not produce definite musical notes. They
are said to have indefinite pitch.
A bass drum is made of
wood, with metal tension rods holding the drumheads in
place. The rods can be tightened to increase resonance.
The drummer uses a beater covered with felt or sheep's
wool. A snare drum measures 14 or 15 inches across and
from 5 to 10 inches deep. It is built like a bass drum,
except it has snares, or strings of catgut or wire,
across the underside. They vibrate against the drumhead,
giving the drum it's penetrating tone. The drummer uses
two wooden sticks in alternate double strokes.
A field drum resembles the
snare drum, but is larger and deeper in proportion to
its diameter. It is used chiefly in military and
marching bands and in drum and bugle corps.
The timpani, or kettledrums, are the only drums that can
be tuned to a definite pitch. They are hollow halves of
globes with single drumheads. The globes are usually
made of brass or copper. The drumheads are usually of
calfskin. The player tunes timpani by adjusting screws
that hold the head in place. This changes the tension
and pitch. Some have petals for rapid changes in tone.
Timpani are usually used in pairs. The player makes
single strokes with two padded sticks. Tone is affected
by the kind of stick. Timpani may be muted by small
pieces of cloth.
The percussion section of
an orchestra gives rhythmic background and special tone
effects. This group includes the timpani, the snare
drums, the bass drum, cymbal, gongs, bells, triangle,
tambourine and many other types of rhythm instruments.
In the Johann Strauss
Orchestra, in the percussion section, you will find
Marcel Falize, Mireille Brepols, and Ronald Gerards. So,
next time you are at an Andre Rieu
concert, watch for
these musicians and see how they add to the performance.
Listen to the "heartbeat" of the music.
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