History of Drums: A Brief History Lesson for Drummers

of Drums: A Brief History Lesson for Drummers

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Drumming dates back to thousands of years ago. Before people developed the drum set we know today, they were already using other percussion instruments. Historians believe that human beings used to beat on objects and bodies or stomped on the ground to produce musical sounds.  Producing sound was useful for both communications and as an accompaniment for dancing. It moved people’s minds and hearts during events and religious ceremonies. The ancient desire for rhythm developed over time to the modern drum kits we have today. Below is a timeline of how drums have developed and evolved over the years. 

Prehistoric Times 

The first drums made from natural objects such as alligator skin appeared during 5500 BC. They first came about in Neolithic cultures originating from China but later spread to all of Asia.  This period also saw the creation of Bronze Dong Son Drums in Vietnam during 3000 BC. Sri Lanka and African people later discovered drums between 1000 and 500 BC, which they used to communicate. The culture of drums would then spread to Rome and Greece between 200 and 150 BC.  Drumming spread to Europe during 1200 AD via Mediterranean trading routes. African drums later arrived in America through the slave trade in 1500 AD.

The Emergence of the Cymbals 

Cymbals originated from ancient China or Turkey in 1100 BC. They were also common in Egypt, Israel, and the Middle East during the same period. Cymbals typically consist of metal and produce a tinkling, dinging, or brushing sound. In modern bands, the cymbals often establish the time signature. This instrument has since undergone various improvements to what we have today. 

The Snare Drum

The snare is a conventional piece in most drum kits today, but it wasn’t always that way.  The snare drum developed around 1300 AD. During this time, people used any material they could find, such as animal skins. The first snare came out of medieval Europe with the Tabor, a double-headed musical instrument used by drum corps and the fife.  In the history of drums, better methods of manufacturing the snare emerged during the 1600s. These methods made it easier to adjust the tension using screws and secure it more firmly. Improved tension meant the snares could produce brighter and more complex rhythm sections and sounds.

The Bass Drum 

The bass drum first emerged in Europe around 1400 AD. Its predecessor was the Turkish davul, hence the nickname “the Turkish drum.” The davuls were mostly for motivating troops during combat and war due to their ability to produce a deeper, more unique tone than other drums types. 

The Drum Sticks 

Although limited evidence exists showing the use of drumsticks during ancient times, historians believe the earliest emerged in the 1300s. These were mostly for beating Tabors, the predecessor of modern-day snares in a standard set.   Drumsticks further evolved in the 1700s to include different woods such as beefwood. In the 1800s, ebony was the most preferred choice for military drums.  Due to complaints about drumsticks wearing down too fast, Joe Calato came up with a type of drum stick with a nylon tip in 1958. 

The Bongos 

After the invention of the snare, cymbals, and bass drum, the trend remained unchanged until the discovery of the bongos in 1800. The bongos, a set of twin drums, originated from the Cuban and African cultures. 

Discovery of Drum Sets 

The discovery of the first drum set occurred in the late nineteenth century. At the time, it usually took multiple people to play all the parts, including the snare, cymbals, bass, and other percussion instruments. Dee Dee Chandler discovered a way to play all these parts together, thus inventing the first drum kits.  Chandler’s innovation came from how he put together the first drum kits. He discovered a way to play the bass using a stepping pedal while at the same time using his hands to play the snare.  Drum kits became more popular in America during the 1960s due to the emergence of individualism. Musicians added more cymbals and the bass drum to create modern drum kits.  Since discovering the first drum sets, technological advancements have led to the development of electric drums in recent years.


Whether you love classical music or other fun music genres, the history of drums is broad and exciting to learn. Drums and drum kits have gone through different evolution phases. Rock drummers can now access a wide range of drums for both beginners and pro players.  Looking for drum kits, parts, accessories, and more? Check out Drum Center of Portsmouth today!