When you think of a drum, what image does it bring to mind? A rock band? A marching band? Many of us are unaware of the history behind this amazing instrument, and that is has been used for communication for hundreds of years. It has been used for long-distance communication, ceremonies, and religious functions in Africa as well as other foreign countries. Drum communications are not actual languages, but they are based on natural languages and speech patterns. Learning to talk in drum language can be very difficult and not many are willing to try. But it is a fascinating concept that we should not ignore! Below are listed 5 ways that drums are used to communicate.
- Drums are used for Ceremonies and Rituals
There are many rhythms that simply express the joy of life and in many traditional cultures, they celebrate the joys of life with ceremonies and rituals. Villages come together and dance from dusk until dawn with many people joining in. There is a lot of call and response and singing to go along with the drum beat they are dancing to, as well as story-telling and other rituals. This type of community drumming also gives the chance to pass on traditions from generation to generation.
Historically, drums were beaten by kings on special occasions, such as during wars when they wanted to address their subjects. Drums were the driving force behind the art of war back then. It was a way to get the adrenaline pumping for the soldiers, and terrify the enemy with the thunderous noise coming from the drums. Modern armies still march to the beat of a drum, but it isn’t used the same in war time because of the change in ammunition. But the drums still forge a sense of unity.
- Drums are used for communicating over long distances
Africans and Europeans developed a wireless communication system long before cell phones were invented! In a time and place where roads didn’t exist, men went into deep in the forest to hunt and women walked long distances to gardens. They needed a way to be informed if something went wrong in town. Drums were used to send detailed messages from village to village much faster then a person could walk or ride a horse. The sound of talking drums could reach up to 4 to 5 miles. These drums have hollow chambers and long, narrow openings that resonate when they are struck. They are made out of hollow logs. The larger the log, the louder the sound would be. The drummer would communicate through phrases and pauses, and low tones referred to males while high tones referred to females. Some have called this a way to gossip, or learn information through the grapevine.
- Drums are used for slave communication and entertainment
As we all know, music can make any work much more fun to do as it energizes the workers. It the past, as hunters and gatherers were transitioning into seeders and harvesters, the drums made the boring and repetitive work fun instead of boring. It would help them to past he time playfully.
Drum rhythms are also a type of code. During the slave trades, drums were banned because the slaves were communicating to each other over long distances using a code their owners couldn’t understand.
- Drums mimic the tone of human speech
The “talking drum” is an hourglass shaped drum from West Africa (pictured above). The pitches that come from this drum can mimic the tone of human speech. It has two drumheads that are connected by leather tension cords. When the chords are squeezed, it changes the pitch of the drum. The leather cords are held under the arm of the player and squeezed while they play. The drum can capture pitch, volume, and rhythm of human speech.
- Drums connect humans to the sprit world
Many cultures have healers, psychics, and specialists called Shamans who are considered to be professional trance travelers. They handle communication between humans and the spirit world. They ask the spirits for help with a good hunt, diagnosing/curing the sick, and transitioning a dying human into the spirit world. The shaman uses drums, rattles, and gourds wrapped in beads in their many techniques to go into a trance and speak to the spirits. Sounds like a fun profession, don’t you think?
There is so much more to drumming then just beating something with a stick! If you are interested in learning to play the drums, check out our website and sign up for lessons today! https://www.omahaschoolofmusicanddance.com/drum-lessons-omaha-ne/