Physics of Drums

Physics of Drums

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Dating back to the slave trade the drum has been used all over the world as a means of communication and self expression. Its broad variety of users includes the early African tribes and the Native Alaskan tribes, both using them for ceremonial purposes. The Africans brought drums with them to the Americas and helped to develop their popularity among American musicians. In the mid 1900’s drum sets were brought about. These revolutionary collaborations of percussive pieces started off with a pair of hi-hats, a bass and snare drum, and a couple of tom toms. Later as the music progressed, so did the drum kits, completely eliminating the need for an entire drum section. With the coming of the rock and roll movement the drum kits were changing, they needed to accommodate the new music styles. They became sonically diverse and even electronic drums were brought about; making them infinitely adjustable both ergonomically and musically. With every major drum manufacturer competing to have the best product on the market drums will always be evolving and the ” limit for drum set creation will simply be the imagination of the musicians.” (http://www.josaka.com/Features/2005/History-of-Drums.htm)

The sound waves for open ended and string instruments is fairly straight forward. However, for a closed end instrument, such as a drum, the sound waves are different. A lot of the energy is dissipated through the shell of the drum, which is the reason for the variance in drum construction these days. Many different kinds of wood are used to generate different sounds, or a different amount of energy absorption. For a warmer, deeper sound maple construction is used while birch is used to get a high, resonant tone full of vibration. The heaviest wood that dissipates the most amount of energy is oak, creating a lower, flat sound.

When the wooden shell construction isn’t enough for drummers to achieve the right amount of sound wave dampening, different drum heads are used.

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The thicker the drumhead the lower the sound and the higher the volume, likewise in contrast the thinner the drumhead the more the drum can resonate and vibrate freely. Another factor determining the sound of a drum is the tension at which the drumhead is tightened. With a higher tension comes a higher pitch, while a lower tension generates a lower-pitch sound.

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