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The Hand Drum: A Hands-On Experience

Sep 10, 2008
In the digital and electronic age of the 21st century, we are surrounded by devices that can sometimes hide their true purposes beneath a veneer of hard plastic and shiny chrome. The Kitchenaid mixer, for example. When I was growing up, it was a plain white machine with a bowl. Today, it is available in what seems like hundreds of colors, some of them with names like "Gloss Cinnamon," "Sugar Plum" and my personal favorite, "Wasabi." It can utilize dozens of different accessories, from can openers to ravioli makers. This counter appliance has become less of a cooking convenience and more of an adornment for modern kitchen. Like so many human inventions, it has drifted so far from its original incarnation as to be almost unrecognizable.

The same thing has happened in the music industry. Some of the flashy electric guitars of today are far cries from the original, and much more humble, wooden acoustic guitar. Similarly, the modern drum set, with its lustrous surfaces and manufactured aura, is almost unrecognizable as kin to the drums of ancient civilizations. However, and perhaps fortunately, something about a basic hand drum is innately appealing to humans. This theory is supported by the fact that in spite of all the more modern versions available, many people the world over still play hand drums.

A hand drum is simply any type of drum played with the bare hand rather than a stick or other type of beater. There are many different types of hand drums: they hale from Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Internationally, the frame drum is the most common style of hand drum. It consists of a shallow, cylindrical shell with a head at one of the open ends. This is the oldest type of skin drum and one of the most ancient types of musical instruments. Instances of it may be found in many different cultures around the world. Examples include the tonbak of Persia, the tamborim of Brazil, the Bodhran of Ireland and the kanjira of India. The frame is usually made of bent wood that has been joined together, and the drum head is traditionally made of animal skin, although today man-made materials are also used.

Of course, some of the most famous hand drums are the congas and bongos used in the music of Latin America. Thanks to the popularity of music like salsa, these instruments have become known the world over. Both bongos and congas are essentially frame drums; traditionally made of wood and animal skin (although man-made materials such as fiberglass are often used in modern times), they have only a single head. However, while bongos are small in size, congas are tall and narrow, typically nearly three feet tall, making them much larger than most frame drums. Also, the construction of their bodies is like that of a barrel, with multiple strips of wood rather than a shell of a single piece.

In the study of ancient cultures, frame drums are held to have associations with both religion and entertainment. They varied in size and sometimes had metal rings or plates incorporated into the design; a tambourine is an example of such a drum. It is worth noting that the names of some frame drums from various cultures strongly resemble each other, making it likely that the instrument was invented in a single location and spread out from that point.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for drums, frame drums, congas, bongos, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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