Drums, likely the world's primal instruments, have been used by disparate cultures around the world for millennia, dating as far back as 4000 BC. Drums have been used to communicate and to entertain. Battle drums have been significant for signaling warnings and other communications in the military groups of societies across the planet. The rhythmic beating of drums mimics one of the first sounds every human hears: the heartbeat of one's mother. Amazingly, animals such as primates and even rodents are known to make drumming sounds.
Listening to drums is soothing, and the act of beating on drums can be a cathartic release. Drumming is believed by many to be a spiritual pathway. To some peoples, drums are sacred objects. These simple percussion instruments come in many variations. Whether for collecting and displaying, therapeutic use, participation in social drumming circles, educational toys for children, musical performances or private enjoyment, or even use as globally inspired furniture, world drums are beautiful. Buyers should acquaint themselves with the basic types of drums before looking into buying specific drums.
Basic Types of Drums
Before reading about specific drums, it helps to know the general form categories that drums fall into. The following table describes the most common general types of drums. Note that a "drum head" refers to the playing or beating surface, a membrane or skin that is stretched over a hollow area.
A drum shaped like a cube
A shallow drum with a wide drum head
A drum that produces sound by rubbing instead of beating
A large drum that produces the lowest tone
Any drum that features two drum heads, such as one at each end of a cylinder
A hemispherical drum with a bowl-shaped body of metal or fiberglass
A drum that uses a pottery jug for the drum chamber; the drummer raps on the pottery itself rather than on a drum head
A drum that is played with the bare hands rather than with a tool such as a beater or sticks
A drum with wires that vibrate when the drum head is beaten and produces a buzzing sound
Slit log drum (slit drum, log drum)
A hollow piece of wood or bamboo with slits cut along the length
A very tall drum that stands on the floor
A stir drum has no drum head but is played by moving a beater around the inside of a wooden cylinder made of graduated lengths of wood; it resembles a xylophone that has been curled around rather than laid flat
A drum that produces different tones, which resemble speech, and is used to communicate over distances
A drum that is narrow at the base and flares out at the top, like a goblet
Understanding these types of drums can facilitate understanding when reading about specific drums below.
Drums of the World List
Drums by different names come from different continents and other defined geographical areas. Some drums have many different spelling variations, but the most common ones are used here. Most drums are African, Latin, or Middle Eastern in origin, although some come from Europe or island nations. Drums are a huge part of Native American heritage as well.
African culture is known for its celebration of drumming, and African drums are popular with drummers the world over. Below is a list of the most common African drums.
The ashiko is a hand drum that is shaped like a cut-off cone. The ashiko produces three tones. Some ashiko drum heads have the fur still on the animal skin, which muffles the sound.
The conga is a tall, barrel-shaped standing drum that is beaten with the hands. Conga drums are popular in American music and with other cultures as well.
The djembe is a goblet-shaped hand drum. The djembe is known as a drum of healing and gathering.
The djun-djun is a two-headed bass drum from western Africa. It is often played with the djembe and other drums as part of a set.
The doumbek is a wooden goblet drum from North Africa.
The rik is a single-headed frame drum that is hit with the hands or shaken and is a variation of the tambourine.
A large majority of Asian drums come from south Asia, and there is a large variety of Indian drums in particular. Below is a list of the most significant Asian drums.
The damroo is a small two-headed drum from India that is played by twisting it rapidly. Loose strings (usually two) whip around as the damroo is twisted, and the firm knot at the end of each string beats the drum head to create the sound.
The two-headed dhol comes from the Indian state of Punjab. Each head creates a different pitch. The dhol is used to make folk music to accompany the bhangra dance.
The hudak is an Indian folk drum. It is a small-headed drum that is held under one arm. Strings around the outside of the hudak can be manipulated to vary the sound.
The khamak is a hybrid instrument that looks much like a drum but is technically a string instrument. It is played by plucking the strings that surround the drum cylinder.
The khol hand drum comes from West Bengal in India. The drum body is made of pottery or, more modernly, fiberglass. There are two drum heads, one significantly smaller than the other.
The madal is a two-headed drum. Straps or laces around the drum cylinder are used to adjust the tuning.
The mridangam is a two-headed drum that is popular in south India.
The naal is a two-headed wooden drum from India.
The nagah is a two-headed drum that is played with a beater.
The pakhawaj is a drum of northern India.
The tabla is a popular drum in India and actually consists of two separate hand drums, usually referred to as the dayan and bayan. The left-hand drum (bayan) is larger than the right-hand drum (dayan), resulting in two different sounds.
The tasha is a kettle drum that is played with sticks. It is popular in western India.
A couple of drums from Europe make the list of world drums. Below are the most notable drums that come from European countries.
The bodhran is an Irish drum. It is a single-headed frame drum that is played with a beater.
The tabor is a shallow two-headed drum that was popular in Medieval Europe.
Island nations, such as Cuba, are known for having their own styles of drums. These are often referred to as Afro-Cuban drums. Below are two significant island drums.
The boku is the Cuban version of the African ashiko, a hand drum.
One of the most recognizable world drums (like the conga), the bongos or bongo drums are two hand drums that are attached to each other. Like the Indian tabla, each drum has a name. The "female" drum (known as the hembra) is surprisingly the larger of the two; the other is called the macho (male).
Middle Eastern Drums
While the Middle East is not a continent, it has a distinct culture and a rich history of music. The boundaries of the Middle East are not definite and vary from one map to the next. Some sources say that all Middle Eastern countries lie within Asia, while others include countries in northern Africa (such as Egypt) and southern Europe (such as Turkey). Many Middle Eastern drums have ancient Persian origins. Below is a list of Middle Eastern drums.
The bendir is a small frame drum, similar to a tambourine but with a snare instead of cymbals. It is held in one hand while it is played with the other. The bendir is used throughout most of northern Africa.
The darbuka is a tall goblet drum that is commonly used to accompany belly dancing. The drum body may be made of metal, wood, or pottery.
The deff is an ancient Persian frame drum.
The nagada is a long, narrow hand drum that is held under one arm. The nagada was traditionally a medicinal drum, used to heal a variety of ailments.
The naker is a small kettle drum that is played with a beater. Nakers are usually sold and played in pairs.
The tar is a large tambourine from north Africa.
The tupan is a cross-cultural two-headed drum. Used in Arab lands, it is also found in southeast Europe and southeast Asia.
The zarb is a goblet drum, like the doumbek, but may also be made of brass and is considered to be Persian in origin rather than African.
North American Drums
While American and Canadian drums surely developed from the European tradition, and drums of Mexico were probably influenced by both Europe and South America, indigenous peoples used drums long before Europeans arrived on the continent. Drums are used by Native Americans in various ceremonies and rituals, such as sweat lodges, pow wows, and shamanic healing sessions.
Pow Wow Drum
The pow wow drum is not necessarily a specific style of drum but a drum reserved for use in the pow wow rite. Many are large frame drums that sit in a stand.
Several tribes are known for using water drums, which feature a drum chamber filled with varying levels of water to produce different sounds.
South American Drums
Latin drums are an integral part of Latin music, which has distinctive beats and is almost inseparable from Latin dances. Below is a list of notable South American drums.
The caixa is a snare drum used especially for samba music. It is used most often in Brazil.
The cajon is one of the few box drums and is believed to have developed in Peru.
The cuica is a friction drum from Brazil. The sound is produced by using a wet cloth to rub a dowel that is attached to the drum head from the underside.
The pandeiro is a hand drum and a frame drum. It is similar to a tambourine but comes from Brazil.
The repinique is a two-headed Brazilian drum that is played in an ensemble to accompany samba, like the caixa, but is taller and has no snare.
The surdo is another Brazilian samba drum for ensemble performances. It is a two-headed bass drum, although only the top head is played.
Where to Find World Drums
International drums may be sold at stores that sell musical instruments but are more likely to be sold by specialty retailers. Some boutiques that specialize in handicrafts from around the globe may sell some of these types of drums. Antique stores may carry older drums. The chances of finding unusual drums online is much higher. An online auction site can be particularly helpful. Classified ads are another possibility. As a last resort, find a drumming group in your area and ask for their recommendations on sources.
How to Buy World Drums on eBay
Drums from different cultures are likely to be listed on eBay with other musical instruments, but some may also be considered collectibles, so you should check both categories when shopping. You can start by doing a keyword search for "drum" or "drums" from any eBay page. Next, use the category filters on the search results page to find different kinds of drums in different sections. If you know the specific culture or country from which a drum comes, or the general type of drum, you can enter more specific keyword phrases, such as "Native American drum" or "kettle drum."
You can also find drums on eBay by navigating through categories from the homepage. Browse all categories and find the category for musical instruments, then go to the percussion section and, finally, drums. Use category filters to find world drums.
This list of drums from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Islands, the Middle East, North America, and South America shows how percussion in general and drums in particular are part of a universal language. The primal urge to hear and keep pace to a beat is evident in all cultures. Drum beats remind us of the rhythm of life, the passage of time, and a sense of order to things. Most drums consist of a membrane (usually an animal skin) stretched taut over some type of frame or chamber, although there are alternative instruments that are also referred to as drums, such as the jug drum, the friction drum, and the stir drum. Drums may be played with two sticks, a beater, the hands, or various other objects. Whichever drum is chosen, respect it, handle it with care, and do not allow it to be used as a toy, but play it often for music as well as for self-help purposes. Check out books on therapeutic drumming or seek out a drumming circle. Purchasing a world drum is something almost anyone can enjoy, regardless of musical talent or skill.