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The Drumhead: From Rawhide To Kevlar

Sep 15, 2008
If you're anything like me, you think of a drum as a single entity, an easily definable instrument of simple construction. Yet the fact is that drums really consist of at least three separate and distinct parts: the shell, the "hoop" or "rim" and the drumhead. And it is this last component that produces the sounds we all associate with the drum, the rolls and resonances that so strongly characterize the instrument. The drumhead is the thin membrane that is stretched over one or both open ends of the drum shell. It can be struck with a variety of instruments, including the empty hand, which causes it to vibrate. The vibrations then resonate through the shell of the drum, producing sound.

The drum is a very ancient instrument, and its existence predates recorded history. The first drums we know of used the skins of animals, or rawhide, to create drumheads. A wide variety of rawhide was used in ancient times, often depending on the culture and the animals readily available. The skins of kangaroos, moose, deer, lizards and other animals were all used. Sometimes other parts of animals, such as the intestines of whales, were also utilized. Although there are a number of manmade options available in modern times (more on this in a moment), animal skins are still used in the construction of some drums, many of them hand drums such as congas and bongos. However, the problem with animal skin drumheads is that they tend to be susceptible to environmental conditions, such as excessive heat or humidity.

As mentioned, the majority of drums made today have drumheads of manmade material. There are several different options, the most common of which is the plastic drumhead. These are made from polyester and were developed by Remo Belli and Sam Muchnick. These gentlemen called their invention "mylar," and in 1957, Belli used it to found Remo, a highly successful drumhead company still in existence today. Remo produces the Weatherking drumhead series, which is used by orchestras and marching bands, as well as in drum sets.

Aramid fibers are also commonly used to create drumheads. These synthetic fibers are strong, light and heat-resistant; the most well-known of them is probably Kevlar, which is famous for its use in military applications, such as body armor fabric. Aramid fibers are useful in producing drumheads that require increased durability, such as those commonly used in marching percussion situations.

It should also be mentioned that although it is the drumhead that creates the vibrations that are the source of the drum's sound, it is the drum rim that controls those vibrations. A drum hoop, which can be of metal, wood or some other material, is used to hold a drumhead against the drum shell. The drumhead is attached to the hoop with bolts. These bolts, called "tension rods," are screwed into threaded nuts, or "lugs." The lugs allow the bolts to be tightened, usually by means of a "drum key," a type of wrench specific to the purpose. By tightening the bolts, a drummer is able to control and tune the drumhead.
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, drumheads, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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