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Drumming is a primal thing. People might have started drumming by clapping their hands. Then they moved on to hollow timbers and finally stretched an animal hide over a frame.

Today, there are different kinds of drumming and different kinds of drums. Drummers can play hand percussion, march percussion or kit drums.

  • Hand percussionists use a traditional wood and calfskin drum, creating rhythms with their hands or soft tipped mallets. Congas, bongos, bodhrans and djembes are just a few examples of hand percussion drums.
  • A march percussionist is the sort of drummer you'd see in a parade. They carry a large drum supported by shoulder straps, and they sound out the rhythm with large drumsticks.
  • Kit drums are the sort of drums you likely see on stage with your favorite band. The kit includes an assortment of drums and cymbals. Tapping the instruments with small drumsticks create sound. Some drum kits are electronic for amplification and special effects.

It was the power of a live performance that got Ellen Agger into drumming. She saw a group of hand percussionists performing on a drum called the djembe. Afterwards, she took it up herself. She loves it.

"I discovered that every culture has some kind of drumming, some used for communication, some for celebration, some for community building."

The kind of drum you play will determine where and when you can practice. Hand percussion drums are compact and portable. Drummers practice at home, in the park and on street corners.

March percussion drums are also portable and fairly compact, but they tend to be a bit louder than hand percussion -- maybe that's why these drummers always seem to be practicing in parade squares!

Drum kits are somewhat portable, but hardly compact. Most drummers need a van to move their equipment. Many will tell you setting it up and taking it down again is a nuisance.

Steve "Muffin Head" Mills has his kit set up in the spare bedroom. "Yeah, it's packed full," he admits. Mills has to limit his practice time to weekends and early evenings when no one else in the house is trying to sleep. Other drummers keep their kit in a garage or rent studio space with other musicians.

The popularity of hand percussion has really increased over the last few years as part of a new age trend throughout North America, says George Goodall, who sells drums. Pearl predicts the market will continue to expand over the next decade, but the major market will still be for drum kits.

You can buy a hand percussion conga for $250. The average price is between $480 and $800. Keep in mind that most hand percussionists own several drums!

A drum kit is an even more costly proposal. Most of the entry-level kits include these five pieces:

  • Bass drum (18 to 22 inches)
  • 1-4 tom-toms (10, 12, 13 or 16 inches)
  • 13- to 14-inch snare drum
  • HiHat and stand (13- to 14-inch HH cymbals)
  • 18-inch cymbal

Prices will range from between $450 and $550 for an initial drum kit. As you learn and improve, you may want to upgrade to a set made with a mahogany or birch shell instead of plywood. You can expect to pay $700 and up for this kind of set. Top-end sets start at $1,600.

Cyber Drum magazine says your first kit will last you for two to five years, depending on your talent and diligence.

Almost anyone can be a drummer. "You don't have to have physical strength to be a drummer," says Suzanne Bishop, a drummer for a punk-rock band.

What you do need is physical coordination. "Your four limbs are doing things at the same time," Bishop explains. "That's the hardest." If you can dance and keep rhythm, you can probably play drums.

Agger remembers being discouraged from playing drums when she was in school because it was considered a "male" instrument. Times change. "If I had been bolder then, I could be a much more experienced drummer today!"

A lucky few drummers make a living playing drums. Walfredo Reyes has played with such well-known acts as Traffic, Robbie Robertson and Santana. In one edition of Cyber Drum, Reyes warns that there are a lot of good drummers that never "make it" professionally.

"The term 'making it' is not really so much a definition of how good you are. It's really more how persistent you are and how hard you want to play the game."

The Mooreville High School Drumline does some "marching in" before a competition.
Courtesy of: Cool Drummings

Many drummers become instructors. Drummer Chuck Silverman teaches drumming in workshops across the United States and is completing a master's degree in music therapy. "What I'm interested in is how rhythm affects people," says Silverman.

A drummer might consider setting up a business to play to seniors and invalids, bringing back the rhythms of their youth.

Reyes says the key to great drumming is relaxing and breathing. "Breathe properly to relax. Not only with the drums, but in life. If you can relax, things will come off live and in the studio with the same confidence and relaxation that they did in your practice room.

"Adrenaline is good, but you can't be controlled by it. I remember a book a friend gave to me one time on breathing. On the first page in big letters it said, 'If you don't breathe, you die.'"

Young drummers need to have great feel and great timing, says Ron Wikso, who has played with The Storm, Foreigner, David Lee Roth and Cher. They should also be able to read music, he told the readers of Rim Shot Magazine.

"They should also listen to as many different kinds of music as they can. They certainly won't like all of it, but the exposure alone should help to contribute to a well-developed musical roundness and sensibility," he says.

"That will help them to hear different things to play in the various musical situations they may find themselves in."

Getting Started

If you're not sure you're meant to be a drummer, you may want to practice with a drum pad before you buy your first drum. Drum pads cost about $15, and some experts recommend you try one for a few weeks before you invest in the real thing.

You can take lessons in drumming or you can teach yourself. Check your local phone book for listings.

Also do some reading. There are many books available to help you learn about everything from rock drumming to African traditional percussion.


Percussive Arts Society
701 Northwest Ferris Ave.
Lawton , OK   73507-5442

Earth Drum Council
P.O. Box 1284
Concord , MA   01742


Drummer's Web
Look for Chuck Silverman's educational articles and lots of great links

Drums and Percussion Page
Drummers and percussionists on the Net, how-to guides and FAQs

Village Music Circles
Learn about drumming circles and find a group near you

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