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The Evolution, Impact Of Drums In Modern Music And Society

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Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels CC0: https://bit.ly/34mjB5F
Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels CC0: https://bit.ly/34mjB5F

The modern drum kit has at least some basic elements that are instantly recognized and each item tells a story.

The snare drum can be said to be the most important drum in the kit. It is a small, high-pitched drum with a snares, which are metal wires or springs that vibrate against the bottom head when the drum is hit. This gives the snare drum its characteristic "snap" or "sizzle" sound.

The bass drum is the largest drum in the kit and is the physical foundation and where all the other items orbit around. It is played with a foot pedal and delivers the pounding low, booming beat.

Tom toms are a set of smaller drums that are mounted on stands. They come in a variety of sizes and tones to give a melodic feel to the rhythm, along with the cymbals which are metal discs that crash, ring and sing with every strike of the stick.

And there is the hi-hat cymbals which are a pair of cymbals that are mounted on a stand. They are played with a foot pedal that open and close producing a clicking sound.

No one person can claim credit for being the first to assemble the drum kit. Although individual elements can be traced back to some ground breaking drummers. Jazz icons like Gene Krupa and Max Roach along with rock stars from Ringo Starr to Keith Moon turned the drum kit from a collection of stuff to beat on into a singular musical instrument.

But the drum kit can also be seen as an American invention that is infused with the nation’s history of racial tensions, global migration, and push-pull between high and low culture.

Author Matt Brennan makes the case for the drum kit's role as one of the most transformative musical inventions of the modern era.


  • Matt Brennan, musician, researcher and author of "Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit"
  • Sticky Wicket, drummer, percussionist, bandleader, teacher, vintage drum collector and content creator of Next Level Chops

This prerecorded interview originally aired on Wednesday, December 30, 2020.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi