Who Invented the Drums?



Percussion has been around for quite a while, having been used in operas and orchestras. Modern drums that we know today began their life in the military to give soldiers a rhythmic tune to keep pace during training. But, who invented the drums?


The earliest record of drumming goes way far back to 5500 BC where drums were found in China. They were probably used for religious and celebratory ceremonies. Ancient drums were played with the hands and there was no evidence to show that drum sticks were used.


The Drum Sticks


Drum sticks were found in cultures from the 1300s. These were used to hit drums that the people called ‘tabors’, a kind of snare drum. In the 1700s to 1800s, drums became popular mainly for military marches and people played these drums with two sticks.


The Bass Drum


Deep drums were common in ancient times. The bass drum we know today was traditionally hit with sticks and was brought to Europe in the 1400s and standardized in many folkloric traditions of Europe. By the 1840s, people began to experiment with foot pedals as a way to enable them to play more than one drum.


In the early 20th century, one man managed to solve the biggest problem that was stopping musicians from making a drum kit. The solution was to integrate a bass drum into a somewhat compact drumming kit.


William Ludwig


William Ludwig invented the bass drum pedal in 1909. This chain-action accessory allows the musician to hit the centre of the membrane with a stick without feeling awkward position-wise.


William Ludwig and his brother, Theobald Ludwig established the Ludwig and Ludwig Co, in 1909 and patented the very first commercially successful bass drum pedal system. The company split in the late 1930s and we can thank the Ludwig brothers for the commercialization of the first bass drum pedals.


In the span of 50 years, the music industry evolved with the drum pedal being a not too modest contributor to the change.


The Snare Drum


The modern snare drum came to be popular in the early 1900s in World War 1. Coiled metal wire was added to the snares which gave the snare the rattle and snap that we know today. A throw-off switch was added that could change the sound of a snare drum to one of a tom-tom. Drummers could play the simple snare figures and grooves with brushes that they would usually play with drum sticks.


The Hi-Hat


Before the hi-hat came about, people were playing cymbals by hand. William Ludwig developed an early low-mounted high-hat called the low-boys. Ludwig had observed that the early pioneer of New Orleans jazz drumming, Baby Dodds, was tapping his left foot all the time. Dodds asked Ludwig to raise the low hats up to make them easier to play, thus creating the modern hi-hat cymbal we know today.


The Modern Drum Kit


Many drummers contributed to making the drum kit we have today. The great jazz drummers of the 30s and 40s helped solidify the set and make it a standardized drum kit. The 50s saw more support with drummers like Papa Jo Jones and ‘Big Sid’ Catlett. The drum kit became a popularised form of the instrument when The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. It was the most widely viewed performance in the history of television at the time. Ringo Starr no doubt was one of the forerunners in popularizing the modern-day drum kit.


Inspired to pick up drumming? Get in touch with us at Ritmo Music Studio. We offer affordable and flexible schedules for drum classes.

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