1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Drum

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

DRUM (early forms drome or dromme, a word common to many Teut. languages, cf. Dan. tromme, Ger. Trommel: the word is ultimately the same as “trumpet,” and is probably onomatopoeic in origin; it appears late in Eng. about the middle of the 16th century), the name given to the well-known musical instrument (see below) and also to many objects resembling it in shape. Thus it is used of any receptacle of similar shape, as a “drum” of oil, &c.; in machinery, of a revolving cylinder, round which belting is passed; of the tympanum or cylindrically shaped middle ear, and specially of the membrane that closes the external auditory meatus; and, in architecture, of the substructure of a dome when raised to some height above the pendentives. The architectural drum had a twofold object; first, to give greater elevation to the dome externally so that it should rise well above the surrounding building, and secondly, to allow of the interior being lighted with vertical windows cut in the drum, instead of forming penetrations in the dome itself, as in St Sophia, Constantinople. The term is also applied to the circular blocks of stone, which in columns of large dimensions were built with a series of drums. At Selinus in Sicily some of these great circular blocks are found on the road between the quarries and the temples; they vary from 8 to 10 ft. in diameter, being about 6 ft. high. The term frusta is sometimes applied to them.

In music the drum (Fr. tambour; Ger. Trommel; Ital. tamburo) is an instrument of percussion common in some form to all nations and ages. It consists of a frame or vessel forming a resonant cavity, over one or both ends of which is stretched a skin or vellum set in vibration by direct percussion of hand or stick. Drums fall into two divisions according to the nature of their sonority: — (1) instruments producing sounds of definite musical pitch, and qualified thereby to take part in the harmony of the orchestra, such as the kettledrum (q.v.); (2) instruments of indefinite sonorousness, and therefore excluded from the harmony of the orchestra; such are the bass drum, the side or snare drum, the tenor drum, the tambourine, all used for marking the rhythm and adding tone colour.

Drums are further divided into three classes according to special features of construction: — (1) instruments having a skin stretched over one end of the resonant cavity, the other being open, such as the tambourine (q.v.) and the darabukkeh or Egyptian drum, shaped like a mushroom; (2) instruments consisting of a cup-shaped receptacle of metal, wood or earthenware entirely closed by a skin or vellum stretched across the opening, as in the kettledrum; (3) a receptacle in the shape of a cylinder closed at both ends by skins, as in the bass drum, side drum, &c.

Skin or parchment only acquires the elasticity requisite to produce vibration by tension; the vibrations of the parchment are taken up by the air enclosed in the receptacle, which thus reinforces the sound produced by the parchment. The tone of the instrument whether definite or indefinite depends upon the dimensions of the vellum, the shape of the resonant receptacle, and the method of percussion. The intensity of the sound depends upon the degree of percussive force used and the diameter of the vellum in proportion to the dimensions of the resonant receptacle; the material of which the latter consists has little or no influence on the tone of the instrument. The pitch of the sound is determined by the dimensions of the vellum taken in conjunction with the degree of tension, the pitch varying in acuteness directly with the degree of tension and inversely with the size of the vellum.

Fig. 1. — Military Bass Drum
(Besson & Co.)

The bass drum or Turkish drum (Fr. grosse caisse; Ger. Grosse Trommel; Ital. gran cassa or tamburo grande) consists of a short cylinder of very wide diameter covered at both ends by vellum stretched over thin hoops, which in turn are kept in place by larger hoops fitting tightly over them. At regular intervals in the two large hoops are bored holes through which passes an endless cord stretched in zig-zag round the cylinder and connecting the two hoops. The tension of the vellum is controlled by means of leather braces which are made to slide up and down the zig-zag of cord, slackening or tightening the large hoops, and with them the vellum, at the will of the performer. Systems of rods and screws are also used for the purpose. The bass drum is mounted on a stand when used in the orchestra. The sound is produced by striking the centre of the vellum on the one end of the drum with a stick having a large soft round knob composed of wood covered with cork, sponge or felt. The bass drum cannot be tuned since it gives out no definite note, but the pitch may be varied, according as a rich full tone or a mere dull thud be required, by tightening or loosening the braces; the instrument can, moreover, be muffled by covering it with a piece of cloth. The music for the bass drum is generally written on a stave with a bass clef, Britannica Drum Note.jpg, the C being merely used to show the rhythm and accents. Sometimes the stave is dispensed with, a single note on a single line being sufficient. The bass drum has a place in every orchestra, although it is used but sparingly to accentuate the rhythm. It is possible to make gradations in forte and piano on the bass drum, and to play quavers and semi-quavers in moderate tempo. A roll is sometimes played by holding a short stick, furnished with a knob at each end, in the middle and striking in quick succession with each knob alternately; two kettledrum sticks answer the purpose still better. It is understood that the cymbals play the same music as the bass drum unless the composer has written senza piatti over the part Wagner did not once score for the bass drum after he composed Rienzi, but Verdi, Gounod, Berlioz and Sullivan used it effectively. The bass drum was formerly known as the long drum, the cylinder being long in proportion to the diameter.


Britannica Drum Guards Pattern Side Drum.jpg Britannica Drum Regulation Side Drum.jpg
Fig. 2. — Guards pattern Side Drum (Besson & Co.). Fig. 3. — Regulation Side Drum (Besson & Co.).


The side or snare drum (Fr. tambour militaire; Ger. Militärtrommel; Ital. tamburo militare) is an instrument consisting of a small wooden or brass cylinder with a vellum at each end. The parchments are lapped over small hoops and pressed firmly down by larger hoops. As in the bass drum, these and the vellums are tightened or slackened by means of cords and leather braces, or by a system of rods and screws. Across the lower head are stretched two or more catgut strings called snares, which produce a rattling sound at each stroke on the upper head, owing to the sympathetic vibration of the lower head which jars against the snares. The upper head, set in vibration by direct percussion from the sticks, induces sympathetic vibrations in the air contained within the resonating receptacle, and these vibrations are communicated to the lower head. The presence of the snares across the diameter of the latter produces a phenomenon which gives the side drum its peculiar timbre, changing the nature of the vibrations, now no longer free: the snares form a kind of nodal contact, inducing double the number of vibrations and a sound approximately an octave higher than would be the case were the heads left to vibrate freely. Moreover, the vibrations of the upper head being weaker, the latter is compelled to vibrate synchronously with the lower vellum.[1]

The side drum, so called because it is worn at the side, is struck in the centre by two small wooden sticks with elongated heads or knobs of hard wood, producing a hard rasping sound when the drum is played singly and in close proximity to the hearer; when, however, several drums are played simultaneously or with other instruments the effect is brilliant and exhilarating. The roll is produced by striking two blows alternately with each hand quite regularly and very rapidly, the result being a rattling tremolo. This roll (“daddy-mammy”) is very difficult to acquire, and requires long practice. The side drum can be muffled by loosening the snares or by inserting a piece of silk or cloth between the snares and the parchment. An impressive effect is produced by a continued roll on muffled drums in funeral marches. The notation for the side drum is similar to that in use for the bass drum; the value of the note is alone of importance; the place of the note on the staff is immaterial and purely a matter of custom. In orchestral scores, a single line is often used, or the part for side and bass drum is written on the same staff. A great variety of rhythmical figures can be played on the side drum, such as

Britannica Drum Rhythmical Figure.jpg

The tenor drum (Fr. caisse roulante; Ger. Roll- or Rührtrommel; Ital. tamburo rulante) is similar to the side drum but has a larger cylinder of wood and no snares; consequently its timbre lacks the brilliancy and incisiveness of the side drum. It is used for the roll in military bands, in some theatre orchestras, and on the stage.

The tambourin de Provence is a small drum with a long cylinder of narrow diameter used in the Basque provinces with a small pipe (galoubet) having three holes. The drum is beaten with one stick only, the performer steadying it with the hand which fingers the pipe. The tambourin and galoubet are in fact a survival of the pipe and tabor (q.v.).

The popularity of all kinds of drums in the most ancient civilizations is established beyond a doubt by the numerous representations of the instrument in a variety of shapes and sizes on the monuments and paintings of Egypt, Assyria, India and Persia. The tympanon, under which name seem to have been included tambourines and kettledrums, as well as the dulcimer (during the middle ages), was in use among Greeks and Romans chiefly in the worship of Cybele and Bacchus; it was introduced through the medium of the Roman civilization into western Europe. It is often said that the drum was introduced by the crusaders, but it was certainly known in England long before the crusades, for Bede (Musica practica) mentions it in his list of instruments, and Cassiodorus (ii. p. 507) describes it. The side drum was, until the reign of Elizabeth, of a much larger size than now and was held horizontally and beaten on one head only. It is not known at what date snares were added; Praetorius (Syntagma musicum, 1618) and Mersenne (L'Harmonie universelle, Paris, 1636) both mention them. A drawing of a side drum showing a snare appears in a book[2] from the printing press of J. Badius Ascensius (1510); the instrument also has cords and braces. Another woodcut of the same century is given as frontispiece to an edition of Flavius Vegetius Renatus.[3] An actual side drum with two curved drumsticks belonging to the ancient Egyptians was found during the excavations conducted at Thebes in 1823.[4] It measured 1½ ft. in height by 2 ft. in diameter; the tension of the heads was regulated by cords braced by means of catgut encircling both ends of the drum, and wound separately round each cord so that these could be tightened or slackened at will by pulling the catgut bands closer together or pushing them farther apart. The Berlin Museum possesses some ancient Egyptian straight drumsticks with handle and knob. Drums were used at the battle of Halidon Hill (1333). An old ballad celebrating Edward III.'s victory on this occasion appears in a chronicle of the 14th century, preserved in the British Museum (Harl. MS. 4690),


This was do with merry sowne,
With pipes trumpes and tabers thereto,
And loud clariones they blew also.”


A prose account of the battle in the same MS. states that the “Englische mynstrelles beaten their tabers and blewen their trompes and pipers pipenede loude and made a great schowte upon the Skottes.”

Froissart, under date 1338, gives details of the means taken by the Scots to intimidate the soldiers of Edward III.[5] Having mentioned their great horns, he adds, “ils font si grand' noise avec grands tambours qu'ils ont aussi.” The same chronicler, describing the triumphal entry of Edward III. into Calais (1347), gives the following list of instruments used: “trompes, tambours, nacaires, chalemies, muses.”[6]

Drums were used in the British army in the 16th century to give signals in war and peace side drums by the infantry and dragoons, and kettledrums by the cavalry.[7] In the reign of Henry VIII. two drummers were allowed to every company of 100 men. The chief drum beats used by the infantry in the 17th century[8] were call, troop, preparative, march, battaile and retreat; these were later[9] changed to general, réveille, assembly or troop, tattoo, chamade, &c. The side drum was admitted into the orchestra in the 17th century, when Marais (1636-1728) scored for it in his opera Alcione. (K. S.)


  1. See Victor Mahillon, Catalogue descriptif (Ghent, 1880), vol. i. pp. 19 and 20.
  2. Joannes Mauburnius, Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium et sacrarum meditationum (Paris, 1510), Alphabetum, ix.
  3. Vier Bücher der Ritterschaft; mit manicherleyen gerüsten, &c.; (Augsburg, 1534).
  4. Carl Engel, The Music of the Most Ancient Nations (London, 1864), p. 219.
  5. Chron. ii. p. 737, see also Grose's Military Antiquities, ii. 41.
  6. See Froissart in J. A. Buchon, Panthéon litt. (Paris, 1837), vol. i. cap. 322, p. 273.
  7. Sir John Smythe, A Brief Discourse (London, 1594), pp. 158-159.
  8. Lieut.-Col. W. Bariffe, Militarie Discipline, or the Young Artilleryman (London, 1643).
  9. Sir James Turner, Pallas armata (1685), xxi. 302.