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Music

Drumming Glossary: 83 Essential Drum Terms

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 30, 2020 • 11 min read

As you build your repertoire and skills as a drummer, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the musical terms associated with the instrument. This means knowing types of drums, types of music, and names of various techniques.

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83 Essential Drum Terms

Anchor your drum vocabulary with these key terms:

  1. Acoustic drums: Also known as membranophones, acoustic drums produce sounds via the vibration of a membrane (or skin) pulled tight over a frame (sometimes called a drum shell).
  2. Agogo: An unpitched metal bell (or pair of bells) often featured in samba music.
  3. Backbeat: The term can refer to a strong accent on an upbeat note, or a 4/4 drum pattern that accents beats two and four.
  4. Batter head: Also called a drum skin or resonant head, the batter head is the membrane of an acoustic drum that a drummer strikes to make sounds. For millennia, batter heads were made from animal skins, but most of today’s drum skins are made from a plastic composite.
  5. Bearing edge: Better known as a rim, this is the part of the drum that connects the membrane to the drum shell. Drummers also use the batter head to produce sounds called rim clicks or rim shots.
  6. Beaters: A collective term describing devices used to strike both membranophones and idiophones. Examples of beaters include drumsticks, mallets, rods, and wire brushes.
  7. Bodhran: A bodhran is a traditional Irish drum that is sometimes used in orchestral music. A bodhran resembles a tambourine without any jingles. A player strikes it with a small beater. Most bodhrans still are made with real goat skins.
  8. Bongos: A pair of Afro-Cuban drums, each with a single head that a player strikes with their hands. Bongos come in different sizes, but they are always smaller and higher-pitched than congas.
  9. Cabasa: A type of African shaker made by wrapping metal chains around a wooden cylinder.
  10. Cajón: Originating in Peru, a cajón (or cajón de rumba) is a hollow wooden box that usually features internal snares on one side. A player sits on the cajon and strikes it with their hands (and occasionally beaters).
  11. Castanets: Handheld wood idiophones that come in pairs. Castanets make a clicking sound when the player snaps two of them together.
  12. Classical bass drum: A large bass drum that is suspended from a frame and struck with handheld mallets. It is similar to the bass drum found in a standard drum set, but much larger in diameter.
  13. Claves: Claves are wooden sticks that click together to produce an unpitched sound. They are a mainstay of salsa music.
  14. Congas: Congas are tall, deeply-pitched drums that stand on the floor or on sturdy chrome hardware. A drummer plays congas by hand.
  15. Cowbell: A hollow metal idiophone named for a similar device hung around the necks of some domestic cows.
  16. Crash cymbal: A type of cymbal that is much thinner than a ride cymbal and produces a brighter, more resonant sound. Crash cymbals come in a wide array of sizes, and drummers primarily use them for accents. Due to their long decay time, they are not used for establishing meter and tempo.
  17. Crotales: Also known as antique cymbals, crotales are made up of a collection of small pitched cymbals. They are a common sound in everything from classical music to 1970s progressive rock.
  18. Cymbals: Most cymbals are curved brass discs that come in a wide array of sizes.
  19. Cymbal stands: Heavy chrome metal stands used to suspend cymbals in place on a drum kit.
  20. Djembe: A goblet-shaped African drum that a player holds between their knees and plays by hand.
  21. Double bass drum: Two side-by-side bass drums that a drummer operates with a double bass drum pedal. The propulsive sound of a double bass drum can be used in any style of music, but it is especially popular in hard rock and progressive rock traditions.
  22. Double-stroke roll: A rudiment in which a player strikes twice with one stick before striking with the other stick.
  23. Downbeat: The first beat in a measure of music, or the quarter notes that define time signatures like 4/4.
  24. Drum beat: Refers to both the single strike of a drum and the overall drum pattern that propels a piece of music.
  25. Drum fill: An intentional break from a drum groove that provides a transition into a new measure or section. Drum fills often showcase a player’s ability on the instrument.
  26. Drum grip: The specific technique a drummer uses to hold beaters such as drumsticks. The primary drum grips are the traditional grip and the matched grip (which itself has three variants—the American grip, the German grip, and the French grip).
  27. Drum groove: A repetitive drum pattern that changes very little throughout a section of music.
  28. Drum key: A handheld metal device for tightening or loosening drum skins.
  29. Drumroll: Also known as a buzz roll, this is a two-handed drum technique that produces continuous sound. Drummers typically play drum rolls on the snare drum.
  30. Drum rudiment: A short musical phrase for drums or percussion that trains a percussionist in fundamental physical and rhythmic techniques. Drum rudiments form the basis of many drum lessons for players of all abilities.
  31. Drum shell: A drum shell provides the structure of the drum. Shells can be made of wood, acrylic, or metal.
  32. Electronic drums: Drums that produce sound via digital technology. Electronic drums consist of drum pads linked via MIDI technology to a sound-generating system. Those sounds are then projected by speakers, rather than the drums themselves.
  33. Finger cymbals: Tiny cymbals that attach to a player’s individual fingers.
  34. Flam: A flam (or flam accent) is a drum rudiment wherein a drummer strikes a grace note before striking the primary stroke.
  35. Floor tom: A deep, low-pitched tom-tom drum that stands on legs near the drummer's dominant hand.
  36. Ganzá: An unpitched metal rattle developed in Brazil and popular in Brazilian samba.
  37. Ghost notes: In drumming, ghost notes are snare drum beats that are played at low volume.
  38. Glockenspiel: A smaller version of the xylophone in the vibraphone family, containing small metal bars that produce a definite pitch with numerous overtones.
  39. Gong: A suspended metal disc found in both Western classical and Eastern traditional music. Orchestras particularly favor a type of gong known as a tam-tam.
  40. Güiro: An idiophone made from a dried gourd and typically played by rubbing wire brushes against it.
  41. Hand drums: Drums designed to be played with hands instead of beaters.
  42. Headless tambourine: A tambourine without a membrane. A headless tambourine produces sound via the vibration of its frame and jingles.
  43. Hi-hat: A pair of cymbals mounted atop one another on a hi-hat stand. Drummers strike hi-hat cymbals with beaters (like drumsticks) or by using a hi-hat pedal.
  44. Idiophones: An instrument that produces sound when the entire instrument vibrates. Some idiophones are wood instruments like cajon, woodblock, marimba, maracas, castanets, and clave. Others are made of metal like xylophone, chimes, crash cymbals, hi-hat, vibraphone, glockenspiel, steel drums, and cowbell.
  45. Kick drum: A large bass drum that sits on the floor and is played with a foot pedal (known as a bass drum pedal or kick drum pedal).
  46. Lugs: Metal hardware directly attached to the drum shell, through which tension rods are threaded. A drum may feature either tube lugs or imperial lugs.
  47. Maracas: Wooden shakers with handles that originated in Venezuela and remain popular throughout Latin music.
  48. Marimba: A musical instrument much like a xylophone, with resonators located beneath its wood bars.
  49. Mbira: Also known as an African thumb piano, a mbira contains individual metal keys that a player presses and releases, causing them to vibrate.
  50. Membranophones: Instruments that make sound when a player strikes a tightly stretched membrane. This category includes timpani, bass drum, snare drum, headed tambourine, tablas, bongos, congas, timbales, djembe, and any instrument that contains a drum head.
  51. Metronome: A device used by drummers and percussionists (and all musicians, for that matter) to keep a metrically precise tempo as they practice or perform. Metronomes can work either by producing sound or by flashing light.
  52. Mridangam: Thought to be the oldest type of drum still in use, the mridangam contains two drums faces—a left face and a right face. Traditional mridangam players apply a mixture of flour and water to the left face to lower its tone when playing.
  53. Ngoma: A barrel-shaped African drum that sits on the floor and is struck with large wood beaters.
  54. Notes: A symbol that indicates a singular musical sound. The key rhythmic durations in drum music are the whole note, the half note, the quarter note, the eighth note, and the sixteenth note. Advanced rhythmic notation goes much further, involving tuplets, grace notes, and durations much shorter than a sixteenth note.
  55. Orchestral crash cymbals: Orchestral and marching band crash cymbals appear in handheld pairs; they produce sound when a player slides one cymbal past the other.
  56. Paradiddle: In drum terminology, para means "single stroke" and diddle means "double stroke," and thus the term describes a sticking pattern where a single stroke is followed by a double stroke.
  57. Polyrhythm: A passage of music that combines two time signatures. For example, a drummer may play a 4/4 pattern on their kick drum but a 3/8 pattern on their closed hi-hat, thus establishing a polyrhythm.
  58. Practice pad: A plastic or rubber pad used by drummers to practice while making a minimal amount of noise.
  59. Rack toms: A pair of tom-tom drums (sometimes called a hi-tom and a low tom) suspended above the kick drum. These produce a higher-pitched sound than the floor tom.
  60. Ride cymbal: Located across the drum set from the hi-hat, the ride cymbal is a particularly large, relatively thick cymbal with less resonance than other pieces of the drum kit.
  61. Shekere: A dried gourd covered with a netting of beads. Originally from West Africa but also popular in Latin American traditions, it produces sound when shaken.
  62. Side drum: The term "side drum" is used in classical music to describe a snare drum, usually with its snare disengaged. Side drums feature prominently in most contemporary classical music, whether or not they're part of a standard drum set.
  63. Single-stroke roll: A simple drum roll with alternating left and right hand strokes.
  64. Slit drum: An idiophone made from a hollowed log, also known as a log drum.
  65. Snare: A series of metal wires that runs along the lower drum head of a snare drum. These wires can be moved away from the snare's lower snare drum head via a throwoff switch. A snare strainer connects the metal snare wires to the drum itself.
  66. Snare drum: A bright, trebly drum that features metal snare wires running beneath its lower drum head. Typically, a drummer plays their snare with their non-dominant hand. Larger, body-mounted snare drums are a mainstay of marching band music.
  67. Splash cymbal: A close cousin to the crash cymbal, but typically thinner and less resonant. It makes a brief, bright sound, like the sound of splashing water. (Note that some drummers use the terms “crash cymbal” and “splash cymbal” interchangeably.)
  68. Surdo: An unpitched Brazilian variant on the bass drum, played with handheld beaters.
  69. Tabla: The tabla is the most common percussion instrument in traditional Indian music. Tablas consist of two drums: a "male drum" that produces a bass tone and a "female drum" that produces a tenor tone.
  70. Talking drum: An hourglass-shaped drum with drum heads on either end. Talking drums get their name from the notion that they can mimic sounds of human speech.
  71. Tambourine: A percussion instrument that consists of a solid, round frame inset with metal disks known as zills (typically made of brass or steel). Most tambourines have a drum head stretched across the frame; traditionally this was a goatskin head, but modern tambourines tend to use plastic heads. Some players opt for a pandeiro, which is a close relative of the traditional tambourine.
  72. Temple blocks: A series of pitched woodblocks popular in classical ensembles.
  73. Tempo: The speed at which a piece of music is played. Tempo is often measured in beats per minute (abbreviated as BPM).
  74. Tenor drum: A round drum of medium depth, higher-pitched than a bass drum but lower-pitched than a snare drum. A drummer plays it with a mallet or a drumstick.
  75. Tension rods: Metal screws that run perpendicular to a drum face and help keep the drum stable and in tune in a process known as tensioning.
  76. Timbales: Timbales are small, metal-frame drums that are mounted on a stand and played with beaters. A timbale player usually has two drums, plus cowbell and perhaps a woodblock, as part of their kit.
  77. Time signature: Time signatures show two pieces of information: the duration of each beat in a measure of music and the number of beats per measure.
  78. Timpani: Also known as kettle drums, timpani sets consist of massive drums that stand on the floor in front of the player who strikes them with felted mallets. Timpani pitches can be adjusted using a foot pedal, which loosens and tightens its drum head.
  79. Tubular bells: Pitched chimes struck with beaters.
  80. Udu: An untuned idiophone resembling a hollow jug.
  81. Upbeat: Refers to the even-numbered eighth notes in a measure of music.
  82. Vibraphone: An adaptation of a xylophone with metal bars and a built in electric resonator that projects the instrument's sound. A vibraphone is essentially a plugged-in metal marimba.
  83. Xylophone: A pitched percussion instrument made from wooden bars laid out like a piano keyboard. Xylophones are played with felted mallets.

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