Classification - Tubular drums



Regardless of the form they assume, the earliest drums were all struck by hand. Neolithic pottery drums of unusual shape have been found in central and eastern Europe: the upper portion is cylindrical, the lower, truncoconical, with closed, flat bottom- the same form as that of some modern East African wooden drums that Sachs (1940) counts among kettledrums. Most of these Neolithic artifacts are plain, but one specimen from Egeln near Magdeburg, Germany, is provided with handles and with holes for lacing a head. Other prehistoric pottery drums of Stone Age Europe have been found as grave goods in central and southeastern Europe, chiefly in form intermediate between goblet and hourglass, and open at both ends; they have projections around the bowl portion over which the membrane could be stretched. Some fragmentary goblet drums dating from about 2000 B.C. assume the shape of a diminutive Babylonian lilissu (see goblet drums, page 147), and are not unlike the modern darabuka of India. Until recently the identification of these objects as drums was not clearly established, but it is generally accepted at present.

Specialists are inclined to agree that, whereas the portable, single-headed drum wa originally modeled of clay and later imitated in wood, the larger double-headed cylinder and conoid drums were first made of wood, their prototype being a branch or the section of a tree trunk. Pre-historic drumsticks, most frequently consisting of perishable wood, are even rarer finds, but bone drumsticks have been found at a site dated about 500 B.C. on Odeny Island in Barents Sea, and the theory has been advanced (by Horst Kirchner) that the so-called batons de commandement, otherwise unidentified objects found at some prehistoric sites, may in reality be drumsticks.


Bronze Age Babylon had drums of a great variety of forms-cylindrical, hourglass, goblet, and bowl shaped- all of which were made of clay and could be stood upright or be suspended by a strap from the player's neck when carried in processions, leaving the player free to strike them with both hands. Assyrians also had a conical drum that was carried at the player's side and played with bare hands. Temple instruments were considerably larger: the frame drum attained some 150 centimeters (5 feet) in diameter and had to be stood upright on edge. A seal of the third millennium B.C. shows Ishtar before an altar having exactly the same shape as an upended hourglass drum; possibly it still was a drum (the metal kettle-gongs of Southeast Asia have fulfilled the function of altar for over two millennia). The ancestor of the kettledrum appears in Babylonia as a temple instrument also.

Large double-headed cylindrical or barrel-shaped drums appear in Egypt in the early Middle Kingdom, believed to have been imported from Negro Africa and adapted for local use. In New Kingdom times, drums are seen played by both Egyptians and Negroes, sometimes suspended horizontally from a strap around the player's shoulders and struck with both hands. An instrument excavated at Thebes was some 60 centimeters (2 feet) long and 45 centimeters (1½ feet) in diameter. None of these different shapes were known (they are discussed on pages 130 ff) and seem to have been more common.

Although European antiquity probably knew of no drum other than the Semitic frame drum- the tympanon of the Greeks and tympanum of the Romans- other forms were introduced from Asia in the early Christian era. A small barrel drum with V lacings and a central ligature is portrayed on a sculptured frieze found at the fortified site of Airtam, some three hundred kilometers southeast of Samarkand, dating from the Kushan period, probably of the first century B.C. The drum is held almost horizontally in front of the player, who is apparently sounding both heads with his bare hands (one hand is broken off). That the drum did not die out in this area may be deduced from the description of an entertainment at the court of the (Central Asian) Ghazawids (962-1186) at which the rebab, harp, and drum were played, as well as from pictorial materials from this area showing ensembles with cylinder drums. A two-headed waisted drum, held horizontally in front of the player, appears on the bas-reliefs of Taq i-Bustan (590-628 A.D.), also played with bare hands, and a Sassanid silver vessel of approximately the same period depicts another, its two heads clearly of different sizes- indicating different pitches- and with what appears to be a central ligature, and early form of hourglass drum that continued to be played in the Near East throughout the Middle Ages.

    The double-headed drum was also known to the Romans and was spread abroad by them, and has been found as far north as the Isle of Wight, where a Roman pavement portrays a dancing girl with two-headed drum suspended at her side while she accompanies a man playing panpipes. Both Greece and Rome made considerable use of the frame drum, but in Byzantium this was gradually displaced by the cylinder drum of Asiatic origin; tenth-century and later manuscript illustrators interpret the Greek names with pictures of new instruments, and the tympanon becomes a cylinder drum in the tenth and eleventh centuries.


That the two-headed drum was still known, or had been reintroduced, in the West in the sixth century is clear from Cassiodorus (d. 575): Tympanum est quasi duobus modiis solis capitibus convenientibus supra eos tensi corii sonora resultatio; quod musici disciplinabili mensura percutientes, geminate resonatione modulantur. The Latin is difficult, but clearly refers to "geminated sounds," and taken in conjunction with two passages of Isidore of Seville (d. 636), his text leaves little room for doubt. The passages from Isidore read: Tympanum est pelis vel corium lingo ex una parte extensum. Est enim pars media symphoniae in similitudinem cribri (… "It is a half symphony, similar to a sieve"), a fair description of the frame drum, while the double-headed drum now receives a name of its own, symphony: Symphonia vulgo appellatur lignum cavum ex utraque parte pelle extensa, quam virgules hinc inde  … inde musici feriunt, sitque in ea ex Concordia gravis … acuti suavissimus cantus, or, that it is the common name of a hollowed wood having its ends covered by skins and struck with sticks to produce high and low sounds; and we learn here for the first time of its being struck with drumaticks, a characteristic adopted from Asia. The two heads of the symphony were presumably of different sizes, as they sounded at different pitches. Because of the very early date for a drum sounding two different pitches, this passage has been taken to be a later addition, yet it is in no way incompatible with our knowledge of double-headed drums. Certainly such an instrument (not too unlike the Stone Age grave goods referred to above) is depicted in the ninth-century Utrecht Psalter, held horizontally in front of its player.

By the tenth century the hourglass drum had been introduced to Europe from the East and is represented, held vertically by its waist while its lower head is played with the bare hand, in a tenth-century Beatus commentary codex in Madrid and in later Spanish manuscripts; in the thirteenth-century Cantigas de Santa Maria the same drum is depicted resting horizontally on the player's shoulder, its struck head facing forward, being held by one hand while the other hand taps it. These instruments still closely resemble their Oriental counterparts as we can observe them in modern times. From the ninth century on a double-headed cylinder drum is played in Byzantium with a single crozier stick; in the eleventh century the Old French word tabor is first recorded, giving us the English "tabor" in the twelfth century (the corresponding Middle High German was Trumme, whence the English "drum"). This denoted a small cylinder drum, very shallow at first, provided with a snare placed traditionally on the outside of the upper membrane; it was struck with a single stick in the center of the head, right on the snare. Played together with the three-holed pipe, this formed the one-man pipe and tabor ensemble (for details of which, see pipe and tabor, page 559).

By the twelfth century the barrel drum is illustrated in England; it was held horizontally, both heads played with bare hands. In English and continental miniatures of the thirteenth century, a crozier-shaped stick is often seen being applied to cylinder and kettledrums. Meanwhile the Old French word tabor had become tabour, finally changed to tambour, a generic tern for drums from the fourteenth century on; even in Trichet's day (ca. 1640) it could denote a frame drum as well as a side drum or a kettledrum. Tabors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were usually small both in diameter and in depth, but in the sixteenth century they grew deeper-notably in France-until the depth was about twice the diameter. These proportions were the reverse of earlier instruments. Arbeau's tabor (in 1589) has those of a diminutive long drum.

Cylinder drums played as independent instruments and beaten with two sticks continued to coexist with the tabor. In the fifteenth century they were occasionally portrayed with tiny bells strung along the snare. They remain small in the West until they are "contaminated," as anthropologists would have it, by or merged into- documentation does not yet afford precision- the Byzantine type, large, hoped, and braced, physically more important. Depth is notably greater than diameter by the early fourteenth century; they have a snare on the struck membrane, hoped and laced heads, and are the ancestors of our side drum and our long drum.à

Quite apart from the pipe and tabor ensembles, cylinder drums also became associated with fifes in the late Middle Ages, and to this association of drum and fife corps of foot troops may be juxtaposed the trumpet and kettledrum combination of the cavalry, despite the differences of their functions: the long fifes provided melody (which the cavalry never needed), the drums rhythm for the soldiers to march to. Swiss drummers and fifers had already participated in the battle of Sempach (1386), and by the latter part of the fifteenth century Swiss mercenaries were much sought after; their "Swiss pipes" (Schweizer-pfeiffen) and drums rapidly became famous throughout Western Europe; as far away as Scotland their drum became known as the swech or swisch.

The English called the instrument drom or drum, and the contemporary expression "dromslade" or "drumslade" is an Englishing of the Dutch trommelslag ("drumbeat"), at first designating the drummer, later the drum itself. In German, these mercenaries were referred to as Landsknechte, from which the term Landsknecht's drum is derived, becoming tambour de lansquenet in French. This was a large cylindrical drum of wood or metal, complete with hoops and braces, struck on the upper head only with two sticks, and to which a snare on the lower membrane added great brilliance of tone. Pieter Brueghel the Eler's painting of a fifer, drummer, and standard bearer (The Three Soldiers) of 1518, gives an idea of the important dimensions the drum had attained by then; its snare is shown placed across the outside of the lower membrane, as it remains today. When Arbeau wrote (1589) of the tambour having reached a height of 2½ feet and the same diameter, it is this instrument he was describing. (A curious auxiliary use of the Renaissance infantry drum was that of drumhead triangulation, with two drums serving in the measurement of angles of elevation for computing distances or heights.)

Praetorius (1916) gives two views of a "soldier's drum" of about 2 Brunswick feet in height and diameter; a Moorish timbrel, the ubiquitous tabor with its pipe, a pair of kettledrums, and the soldier's drum exhaust his repertoire of membranophones. Side drums of the military fire and drum corps underwent modifications, both with respect to dimensions and to head-tensioning methods- braces or rods- in different countries and over a period of time; no uniform model existed other than locally. Diameter and length remained equal until the instrument was considred too unwieldy, causing it to be shortened considerably by the nineteenth century, with the result that the modern and the traditional versions have little in common except the name and the snare.

So similar in every respect to the older and longer side drum is the tenor drum- except for the absence of snares- that it probably represents a petrifact of a seventeenth- century type. Its French, German, and Italian names (caisse roulante, Rollier- or Wireltrommel, cassa rullante) are indications of its function, that of playing rolls. During the nineteenth century it was gradually eased out of most military bands in favor of the side drum, a far lighter instrument as its shell was being made of metal by this time, while that of the tenor was still wooden, but several countries, among them England and Spain, have retained it both as an orchestral and as a military band instrument.

The designation of bass drum has been applied to two separate instruments by modern writers, some preferring thereby to indicate a short and wide drum, others a long cylindrical one. The confusion is due to the fact that the latter form was modified in the nineteenth century until it came to resemble the former; for the sake of clarity the short form will be referred to hereafter as shallow drum, the long drum as bass drum (shallow drums are also discussed separately; see page 141).

Among the instruments in the hands of angel musicians portrayed in the Angers Tapestry of the Apocalypse, completed in 1380, is a wide but short drum- a shallow drum- with a snare on its struck surface, its two heads secured by the Oriental method of nailing, suspended from a narrow, ill-attached neckband, and beaten with a stick on each of its heads; although positioned so as to render the depth visible, the presence of a second drumstick implies that its shell must have rested against the player's chest, with the heads facing sideways; a curious round aperture in the shell is too large for a vent. Drums of this type had been unknown in Europe up to then: both shallow form and nailed head point to a Near Eastern origin. Perhaps this is what the Turkish tabl baladi or larger tabl turki looked like at the time.

Some seventy years later the same shallow drum is figured in Agostino di Ducc;o's Musical Angels at Rimini (1+47-1454), but by then suitably Occidentalized: instead of two drumsticks, a single knobbed stick is now in use, striking the snare head; the neckband has disappeared and, instead, a looped strap handle rises from an aperture in the shell, an aperture that occurs in exactly the same position as that of the Angers Tapestry. Was the designer of the tapestry working from a model with lost strap handle, for which he substituted an imaginary if more familiar neckband? When the same instrument appears in the hands of a Turkish drummer in a painting by Vittore Carpaccio of about 1500, no snare is shown and the drum has become, if anything, even shallower than before: and oversized frame drum, held with heads facing sideways. This is the drum known to the West until the nineteenth century as the Turkish drum; Villoteau still described it as such in 1823, just about the time it began to be called bass drum.

With its diameter expanded and its frame lengthened, the bass drum, as it was thereafter known, retained its proportion of a diameter at least twice as great as its depth. It is set, or carried, with shell resting against the drummer's chest, heads facing sideways, and played close to the rim with a single, padded stick. (An exception to this mode of playing is made by Scottish regimental bagpipe and drum bands; here the Turkish manner is still preserved, with the single stick supplemented by a switch.) The original shell of wood has been replaced by metal and, in recent times, laminated wood. Today it is made in different sizes, depending upon whether it is to serve in the orchestra or the military band, and the tension of its heads is adjusted by thumbscrews, but its form remains that of a shallow drum. Gluck was an early writer for the then new instrument in his Les pelerins de la Mecque of 1764, and Mozart scored for it in his Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (1782).

Another variety known as bass drum, already referred to, was the long drum, a cylinder having a length up to twice that of its diameter. A military drum, it remained in favor until it was displaced by the dawul of Turkish mounted Janissary bands: this was another great drum, but of different proportions, diameter and length being about equal; it was carried to the left side of the saddle, often in a broad cloth sling, or else tilted across the rider's left knee, leaving him free to strike its upper head with a heavy drumstick curved at the tip, reaching the lower at the same time a very slender stick; sometimes the latter was exchanged for a shorter switch. In such bands, seven, eight, or nine dawuls followed as many shawns, to be followed in turn by camel- or horse- mounted kettle-drums, their drummers gesticulating extravagantly, then by a row of cymbals and one of slender, folded trumpets. Whole Janissary bands reached Europe in the early eighteenth century, were imitated, and by the nineteenth century "Turkish" music was an established factor in European military band life (the Turkish horsetail standard became transformed into a jingling Johnny by the addition of numerous small bells) as well as in the home: drums, triangles, and bells were built into pianos for which special "Turkish" music had been composed. Unlike some other components of Janissary bands, the "Turkish drum" was more than a temporary showpiece in Europe: great battle-scarred specimens of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in our museums vouch for their continued use in Europe in their original form. After the Janissaries were disbanded in Turkey in 1826, the drum continued its existence there paired with a zurna (shawm), its length slightly reduced so that both heads could be more conveniently reached; today it is suspended in a near-horizontal position from a band passing around the player's neck.

Under the name of daouli, the dawul also lives on in Greece, played in the Turkish manner, a switch in the left hand, a drumstick in the right. The same instrument is called tupan in Yugoslavia, and is a great, bulky affair, with diameter larger than the length and heads tuned a fifth apart, held in front of the player in a tilted position, and sounded with a combination of switch and stick; there also, it usually accompanies a shawm. It has been said that the unwieldy proportions of the dawul caused it to be cut down in the West so as to form the modern bass drum; however, to transform it thus would have required, not only cutting down considerably on the length, but also increasing the diameter.

Modern orchestral bass drums have a minimum diameter of 80 centimeters (32 inches), though rhythm band requirements are less. The original wooden shell is now made of brass, and tension of the heads is by thumbscrews.


So far cylinder drums have not been traced back further than about 2000 B.C., when they were first seen in Egypt. An actual specimen believed to date from the Twelfth Dynasty (2000-1788 B.C.) is housed in the Cairo Museum; it measures 65 by 29 centimeters (25½ by 11½ inches), and its heads are laced by a network of thongs. With the advent of the New Kingdom the cylinder drum disappeared, to reappear nearly a thousand years later in India.

Outside Europe, cylinder drums always remained on a comparatively primitive level, even in the high-culture areas of the East. A short cylinder drum, its two heads laced, is first depicted in the plastic arts of India in the last pre-Christian centuries, when it was played with sticks and suspended in a horizontal position by a strap from its player's neck. The Southeast Asian archipelago is not rich in drums, as gongs are the preferred rhythm instruments there, yet a cylinder drum is among the instruments depicted on the Borobudur reliefs on Java, of about A.D. 800. Primitive, 3-meter- (10 foot) high cylinder drums, remininscent of their ancestral tree trunk, are slanted to a playable angle on Nias, their lower end carved to form a foot (footed drum),.In China, small cylinder drums were formerly popular, to judge from a scene on an ink-on-paper drawing of Li Kung-lin (d. 1106) of dancing peasants, one of whom carries such a drum suspended from his neck; he is playing it with both bare hands while another peasant plays a cross flute. (for cylinder drums played in pairs, see drum sets, page 154).

As in Indonesia, footed cylinder drums also attain a height of 3 meters (10 feet) in Loango, West Africa; too large to permit being played upright, they have to be tilted to bring the head within the player's reach. Many other African drums are created by the simple expedient of hollowing out a section of a tree trunk, a procedure that results either in a cylinder form or one that tapers slightly toward the base, that is, conical. A now obsolete form from West Africa can bee seen on a sixteenth century bronze plaque from Benin, now in the Lagos, Nigeria, museum, where a "dancing king" with ceremonial sword is flanked by two musicians, one holding a short cylinder drum with hoped heads projecting far beyond the rim of the shell, in the manner of some Far Eastern drums, and the other holding a side-blown trumpet.

Evidence for the existence of both pottery and wooden drums in ancient America is available from excavations and also from iconographic materials. Apparently they were beaten without sticks. Slender pottery drums, open top and bottom, were among the instruments played in the Guatemala highlands in the late classical period (A.D. 700-1000); Sachs has shown that not only these but also other central American drums were played with bare hands. Remnants of a small cylinder drum from ancient Peru present evidence of a most unusual form: the "shell" is merely a skeletal framework comprising two horizontal wooden rings forming the upper and lower rims, connected by a group of three vertical laths 17 centimeters (7 inches) high, a form not known to exist elsewhere. Most Amerind drumheads of modern times are sewn (a few are nailed), and we can assume that this early Peruvian structure was provided with two skins large enough to be sewn together so as to form closed sides.

Pre-Columbian huehuetls of Mexico were beautifully carved, as may be ascertained from extant specimens; today they are made as footed drums and with European inspired lacings.

Cylinder drums of the Indians of the southwestern United States have long been made of a log of hollowed wood-traditionally cottonwood; historically they were war and dance drums, today they are sold in tourist shops. With a height twice that of the diameter, the two heads are laced together. In order to obtain maximum volume of sound the drum is raised off the floor and suspended by its handles from a forked stick inserted in the ground. A similar drum, but taller and with open bottom, is played by the Assiniboin of the northern Plains.


Small, portable drums fashioned in the shape of an hourglass, with two cuplike sections joined so as to form a waist, are generally made of wood or of clay. In some areas, notably in Africa and the Pacific, they may have a monoxylous handle carved at the waist; others, laced from head to head in various cord patterns, are gripped by a band around the waist (tension ligature), thereby increasing the tension of the heads and raising the pitch.

Known since the late Neolithic period in Europe, in historical times the hourglass drum first appeared in India, when the second century B.C. Bharahat reliefs portrayed such a drum suspended from its player's shoulders in a horizontal position, both its heads beaten with sticks. Modern drums of this form on the subcontinent are made of clay, wood, or brass, and have tension ligatures. In the north, a large wooden model is played with sticks, while in the south the small udukkai, a temple instrument, is held in the left hand and tapped with bare fingers. Closely resembling it is the rattle drum in hourglass form, the damaru (see rattle drums, page 151).

Prior to their introduction from Eastern Turkistan in the fourth century A.D., hourglass drums were unknown in China. There, and in the areas under her cultural influence, both heads are played. Via Korea, China exported her hourglass drums to Japan, where the many varieties in existence are known collectively as tsuzumi. Among them the o tsuzumi may be compared to the ko tsuzumi- both of which are played in no ku music- and the san no tsuzumi played in gagaku. Of the three, the first is grasped by its cords with the player's left hand, and one head is played with the right hand; the second drum, placed on the performer's shoulder, has its forward-facing head played with the right hand; the third drum is struck on its right head with a stick. The characteristically hoped heads, extending far beyond the body, are shared with East Asian barrel drums. A very squat and rather gruesome variety found in Tibet has already been mentioned: the ritual instrument of Bon priests that consists of human skullcaps joined together. (Asian hourglass drums transformed into rattle drums are discussed on page 152.)

On the African continent hourglass drums spread clear across the northern coastal area with the Islamic conquests, and penetrated into West and Central Africa. Among the Berber, women are the chief players. Formerly laced, the larger of the drum's two heads is now glued; this is held so it faces down, to be tapped by the player's bare hand. In Zaire, the Balunda carve their hourglass drums and nail theplaying head; furthermore, they pierce a hole in the body and cover this with a vesicle- a mirliton device, such as they also apply commonly to their xylophones. I lourglass drums of the western "Bend" are also played as "talking" drums (see page 156).

In the Pacific, such drums are single headed, with membrane consisting of varan, heated and glued, and a monoxylous carrying handle is carved; on New Guinea they are said to symbolize the transition from earth to heaven. The elongated kunda drums of the western New Guinea Wapenamunda have heads of reptile skin, alack handles, and may be played at war dances.


Conical drums made of clay were known in ancient Mesopotamia, as already noted, but, with the notable exception of India, this form is now found chiefly in an undeveloped condition, probably in part to the fact that a tree trunk cut into segments provides readily available if not always easily worked raw material (some are burned out), offering two apertures of differing dimensions, transformable if so desired into heads of different pitches. A set of three conoid drums is figured on the Hindu-Javanese reliefs of Borobudur, Java, of about A.D. 800, played with bare hands on the smaller of the heads; and in the present-day Balinese gamelan gong orchestra, two conical drums mark changes of tempo. On the mainland, the Garo of Assam, an archaic people, play a conical drum with heads tensed by V lacings. (For double conical drums joined at the widest part, see barrel drums, page 148.)

In Africa, the Ethiopian kabaro is distinguished by its position in the Christian Monophysite church, where it is played on secular occasions.

When made from a tree trunk section it is conical, but otherwise it assumes the shape of an egg with a slice removed from top and bottom; both forms are double headed. If only the upper head is to be played, the drum is stood upright; if both, then it is suspended in front of its player at a slant, supported by a neck band. Kabaros can attain a height of 90 centimeters (3 feet) and considerable width, and are always beaten with bare hands. Form and playing technique have been likened by Wellesz (1954) to that of the ancient Egyptian tubular drums. Conical drums hollowed out of a block of wood with the bottom left open, and provided with two monoxylous handles are played in South Africa by women- an exception to the tradition requiring drums to be played by men only; that of the Pedi has a membrane secured by pegs, while another shared by the Pedi, Venda, Chwana, and Sotho peoples of South Africa has a …….. head; women tap it with their fingers or palms while standing, with …… drum held between the thighs, hobbyhorse fashion, a stance convenient for reaching the head of a drum large enough to require tilting, and at the same time leaving both hands free to play. Another South African people, the Berg Dama, reserve the use of their arub, formed like a wooden bucket, for occasions when the medicine man is called in to treat an ill person; its membrane is played with the thumbs of both hands. A vast number of drums from Central and West Africa are truncoconical, made from hollowed tree trunks, and in West Africa these are often played in sets (see page 154). From the coastal regions they were taken to the New World, where they still participate in Afro-American cult life. Names such as Ibo drum, Dahomey drum, and so on, clearly indicate their provenance.

African drums of Haiti are sacred objects and may even represent the divinity itself. As such they receive libations: sacrifices and offerings of blood are part of the voodoo ritual. Most sacred of these instruments is or was the assoto, which stands over 2 meters (6½ feet) high (most assotos reportedly) disappeared during antisuperstition campaigns waged some years ago). Truncoconical in form and with pegged head, it must be made of wood of the Ochroma pyramidalis (said to contain "a lot of blood" cut at full moon; after baptism, it receives the sacrifice of a re-coated bull or a white or black he goat, from whose blood a cross is then painted on the shell.

As for the Pacific area, Polynesians have a generic name for their membranophones: pahu. These are usually made from the wood of the breadfruit tree or from a hollowed coconut palm, resulting in a natural conical shape; the single head is then laced with sharkskin. Always large, on some islands they reach a height of 2½ meters (8 feet). Many assume the form of footed drums with elaborately carved pedestals; those of Hawaii were imported to the islands from more southerly islands some six centuries ago.


A Babylonian plaque from about 1100 B.C., now in the British Museum, depicts a large, ovoid drum on a very short stem, reaching from the ground to the player's waist- perhaps some 90 centimeters (3 feet) or so high- and struck by a man with his bare hands: this is the prototype of the goblet drum. Our next glimpse of one is some eight centuries later.

Thureau-Dangin (1921) published in his Rituels accadiens the text- in Akkadian cuneiform and a French translation- of a kalu (temple priest) rite involving the ritual immolation of a bull for the sake of its hide, needed to form the membrane of the temple drum lilissu (lilies, in Sumerian). The admittedly late text is taken from an inscription at Erech (Uruk, the modern Warka) of about 300 B.C., but undoubtedly represents an earlier and well-established usage. Both bull and drum are figured, and the latter has the shape of a goblet, more specifically, it is that of a hemispheric bowl set on a short stem terminating in a low, flat base. The bull is apparently a primigenius. Now, the function of the kalu was to appease the gods by his singing, and the principal instrument with which he accompanied his song was the lilissu, a metal drum with bull-hide membrane. Bulls were sacred in the ancient world, from Mesopotamia west to France at least (beneath Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris lies a sanctuary of the horned god, Cernunnos), and east to pre-Aryan India (where, as already mentioned the Bos prinugenius is sometimes represented with an altar, whereas the indigenous Bos indicus never is); hence the use of a bull skin for the head of a temple, that is, sacred, drum. Only a bull resembling the celestial bull might be ritually slaughtered for this purpose; he must be black and free of blemishes.

Both the immolation ritual involving incantations of magical efficiency and the preparation of the hide itself are dealt with in detail: the membrane was stretched over varnished sikkatu, pegs of box, cedar, or other woods inserted in the bowl. Fifteen days after application of the drumhead, sacrifices were made to the now divine lilissu, and seven small figurines called "hands," representing the children of Enmesharra, the supreme kalu (but seven was a sacred, ergo a symbolic, number in Mesopotamia), were placed in the interior of the shell (in another version it is stated that twelve bronze figurines of divinities were placed inside it). Their rattling must have added considerably to the noise of the beaten drum. Of its size we are not informed. Here, then, is a metal basin set on a stand, a sacred instrument by virtue of its bull-skin membrane and its dedication to temple service. Sumerian texts indicate that the lilissu also participated in processions.

Large drums of antiquity such as this (and the Mesopotamian frame drum) were subsequently reduced in size, "miniaturized" to the extent that when they reappeared they were portable and the proportion of shell to stem had been modified- a form that lends itself admirably to being gripped firmly between the player's upper arm and thorax, with head facing forward. Such a drum can also be stood upright, or even held upside down with head facing the ground, in which case it is tapped from below.

This small version became known to the Arabs and was disseminated by them. Extinct in Western Europe, it is today a drum of the Islamic world par excellence. The modern darabuka of North Africa and the Near East, known by a number of variant names from Morocco to Iran and north as far as Bulgaria, is made of metal or of pottery. Further east, a primitive form in Malaya has a snakeskin head laced with split cane to a wooden body, and still farther it is found in Indonesia, made of wood; on Celebes one form remains a temple instrument, set on the ground when played.


Barrel-shaped drums are widest at the center, with rounded outline narrowing toward the ends, but a variant that is wider at the center and has rectilinear narrowing is usually included in this classification. The latter form existed in ancient Egypt and is found in India and East Asia today. A characteristic of both types is their horizontal position when played, both heads being struck.

The barrel drum was first seen in Egypt, during the Middle and New Kingdoms, and two small wooden drums with braced heads, dating from the New Kingdom (1580-1090 B.C.), about 30 centimeters (1 foot) long, have been excavated.

But the continent on which the barrel drums have continued to thrive in abundance since antiquity is Asia. A wide variety is played on the Indian subcontinent, many connected with ancient traditions: Brahma himself is said to have invented the mridanga. In historical times the portable barrel drum is first shown in the first century B.C., being played with bare hands. Brahma's mridanga was and still is the classical barrel drum of the subcontinent; mrd means "clay," pointing to the material from which it may have been made originally, but throughout its known history wood has been the material employed for its fabrication. Its heads are lapped over hoops and laced from end to end, tensed by wedges placed under the lacings and tuned by application of tuning paste.

Tuning paste is a mixture of several ingredients that vary with the locality, but in general the right head receives a permanent application of black paste composed nowadays of manganese dust, boiled rice, and tamarind juice, or of iron filings and boiled rice. A different paste is applied always temporarily to the left head shortly before the drum is to be played, in order to tune it to the octave below the right head; this paste is scraped off after each performance. A number of other drums, both in India and in other Asiatic countries, are likewise tuned by paste applied to the center of the head, or to the side of the head, and in Africa the (low-caste) smiths of Egidi, Zazawa, in the Sahara, tune their drum with a paste concocted of goat's brains and the soot of cooking pots; in fact, the use of tuning paste extends as far south as Nigeria, and, as stated above, its origin is probably to be sough in ritual.

To return to the mridanga: this drum is played with both wrists and fingertips, and, indeed, most Indian drums are played by hand and in this manner. In northern India the same instrument is called pakhawaj; in early seventeenth-century Mogul dance scenes it is shown held by a strap at the player's waist. A form considered to be a descendant of the mridanga is widely disseminated as a clay drum in the shape of two truncated cones joined at the wide part, with heads smaller than those of the mridanga and tuned a fourth or a fifth apart by tension cords. The tabla, its name derived from the Arabic tabl, has a shell of wood, metal, or clay, is closed at the bottom, and has the same shape as the pakhawaj; its single head is tuned with tension wedges and permanent tuning paste, on account of which it is often compared to or even identified with the right head of the mridanga. The tabla constitutes the right-hand drum of a pair, the other half of which is a small metal kettledrum called bamya; together these two have the tuning of a mridanga. Bamyas are played exclusively as partners of the tabla. Other barrel drums are the ancient madala, of clay with laced heads, nowadays also of wood, and the dhol, sacred to the Chamar of Uttar Pradesh, among whom it is played chiefly by women, only its left head being struck and then always with a drumstick; the Muria of Bastar play the same instrument in the same fashion. The related dholaka, encountered all over the subcontinent, is hollowed out of a block of wood; both its heads are played.

To the east, the predominant form of drum throughout Indochina is that of a barrel, introduced from China. A hand-beaten barrel drum is depicted on the Hindu-Javanese reliefs of Borobudur of about A.D. 800. In Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia today a double-headed barrel drum is tapped with the fingers, its heads usually tuned by tension ligatures and tuning paste. Regional variations are of course numerous: in Thailand the large klong has nailed heads, only one of which is played, and this is tuned by means of tuning paste. It emits soft tones when struck with padded sticks and loud ones when bare bamboo is employed. The klong is always propped up so that the lower membrane (not played) may vibrate freely; the similar tapone is laid horizontally in a framework. In Vietnam, shells are usually lacquered and the larger instruments are struck with a stick; the heads of lacquered instruments are attached by nails. Both lacquer and the nailing of heads indicate a Chinese influence.

In China of yore, barrel-shaped containers served as rice or other grain measures, and in time these came to be transformed into drums. Such is the genesis of the po fu, at present- or until recently- a Confucian temple instrument held horizontally on its player's knees, its two heads tapped with the fingers of both hands. The heads of all Chinese barrel drums are secured with nails, and it is probable that this system of attaching them originated here or in the territory between China and Mesopotamia. Large barrel drums, such as the 2 meter (6½ foot) long tsin ku were suspended in an upright frame; if, as was sometimes the case, the heads were also lacquered, they were struck with two drumsticks; others were war drums.

China's musical instruments, including its drums, traveled east to Korea and thence to Japan. Both the barrel drum and the hourglass drum have counterparts there, although the proportions are not always those of their ancestors. A form particular to Japan is the short, bulging barrel drum with projecting heads mounted on hoops laced to each other, with the hoops projecting beyond the shell. Such is the kakko, its two heads always played with slender drumsticks while the shell rests horizontally on a sculptured stand. A now obsolete form, known as kaiko, was formerly played with the fingers of the player's right hand during processions.

Counterpart of the great Chinese tsin ku is the somewhat smaller da daiko, the slightly barrel-shaped shell of which is some 1½ meters (5 feet) long. Typical of this and of some other daikos are heads with hoops that project so far that they virtually hide the shell from view with their lacings. Too large to be portable, the da daiko is suspended from a frame or set on a stand and struck with two heavy, lacquered beaters, always in left-right sequence, its use restricted to gagaku and, occasionally, bugaku music. Smaller daikos are set on low stands in front of the player, tilted, and played with two sticks. When tsuzumi (hourglass drums) and smaller daikos are employed in samisen music, they are played by women. Some other daikos, such as the tsuri daiko ("hanging" daiko) have nailed heads, and both their body and heads are painted; a patch of deerskin applied to the center of the head guards the decoration from damage by the knobbed stick with which it is beaten.

For barrel drums as components of tuned drum chimes in Burma and Thailand, see drum chimes (page 158