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What are the Different Types of Drums?

S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Drums are percussive instruments built by stretching a membrane across an opening in a vessel. The sound originates from the vibration caused when you strike the membrane, called the head, with another object. Drumheads can be made from the skin of a goat, cow, antelope, or sheep, or even a synthetic material. Across the world, cultures carve drums out of wood, sculpt them out of clay, hammer them out of metal, or mold them out of plastic. The kinds of drums that exist vary as infinitely as the people who use them for communication, ritual, or entertainment.

A common, easy way to classify drums types is by their shape. Most drums fall into the following categories: cylindrical, barrel, conga, waisted, goblet, or bowl. A frame drum, with its squat hoop, and a long drum, which is thin and tall, are both the cylindrical variety. A barrel, such as a Tabla, goblet, such as a Djembe, and bowl, such as a Nakari, are named for their shapes so they are easily recognized. The conga tapers at its bottom, and the waisted drum tapers in the middle, as with a Changko's cinched waist.

Drumheads can be made from the skin of sheep.
Drumheads can be made from the skin of sheep.

Even among these shapes, a drum might have a head at either end of the body or only on one. Congas and bowls have one head, but tambourines (frame drums) may have two. Also to consider is whether you can hold the drum off the ground by cradling it under your arm or setting it on your lap. Some drums can be carried while walking or dancing while some drums are stationary, such as the Djembe from Mali.

Bongos consist of two drums.
Bongos consist of two drums.

One characteristic all drums share is their pitch. Drums have a certain tone due to the body shape and head size, but not all drums are specifically tuned. A "pitched" drum's pitch can be adjusted by pulling a cord or moving a peg to stretch the head. Several drums that are part of a set, each with a pitch tuned to harmonize with the others, would also be considered pitched percussion, such as Bongos. In the Western world, we are familiar with non-pitched drums, such as a bass or snare drum in a drum-set. These can be used in combination with any harmony or key.

Discussion Comments


@Potterspop - Considering the vast range of drums that Bakersdozen outlines, it might be good to talk to your son before you spend cash. Get a feel for what kind would appeal to him. You can probably find examples of them all on the net.

Many people advertise a drum set for sale on local classified ad, websites or eBay because they buy in haste and lose interest. You may even be able to pick up a nice custom drum set for a bargain price.


My son is quite musical and I'd like to buy him some used drums, to see if he enjoys playing before I go for something more expensive. Where are the best places to find drums for sale? There are no suitable shops in my area but I'm willing to travel if necessary.


@teddyknitter - I love drums and have several CDs featuring electronic drums from various artistes. One of the fascinating things about this kind of music is how it varies from continent to continent.

In African countries drums need to be made from wood which will take the heat and humidity. I like the look of the Ashiko from this region.

Moving to South American types you see drum sets made in the Cajun style, particularly in Peru. These are easy to make yourself being based on a box.

Indian drums are often double sided, which makes for an entirely different sound and experience. I would love to take drum lessons on one of these, perhaps the Naal or the Mridangam.

Snare drums were the forerunner to those we see most often in western countries these days. They have an interesting history if you want to learn more about the history of music.

I guess I have written quite a lot because I have such a passion for this topic. Thanks for reading this far!


Hello, great article and theory.


Which drums come from which countries/regions? Is there a particular kind of drum that has been around longer than any others?

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    • Drumheads can be made from the skin of sheep.
      By: mato020
      Drumheads can be made from the skin of sheep.
    • Bongos consist of two drums.
      Bongos consist of two drums.
    • Snare drums are a non-pitched kind of drum.
      By: abf
      Snare drums are a non-pitched kind of drum.