Welcome to a fresh new year! Let’s start our musical journey by looking at an instrument that has deep roots in the past but is just as relevant today as it was at the beginning of civilization: the mighty drum. Here are some little-known and fun facts about the world’s oldest musical instrument.
- The oldest drum examples are alligator drums. Made of clay or wood and alligator hides, these drums have been found in Neolithic sites in China – that’s about 5500 to 2350 BC.
- The legendary Viola Smith was the world’s oldest professional drummer until she passed away in 2020 at the age of 107. She got her start working in swing bands and orchestras back in the roaring 20s and in 2019 was still performing on occasion!
- Drumming is great exercise! You can burn more calories drumming than hiking or cycling: up to 600 calories an hour. Not only that, researchers say it improves brain health. So try not to get mad if your kids are making a racket – drumming is definitely healthier than spending time in front of a screen!
- How do you define the biggest drum? The world’s tallest drum is a whopping 18 feet tall. It was unveiled in 2016 at the Nigerian Drums Festival. Perhaps a long-lost race of giants has taken up residence in Nigeria? The largest drum kit in the world holds a Guinness Book record. Created by Mark Temperato, it has more than 813 pieces and takes a good 15 hours to set up. And the largest single drum, which you’ll find on display in South Korea, is an epic 18 feet across and weighs seven tons.
- You might know that drums have been used as communication tools, such as in wartime. But did you know that there are “talking drums” that can be used to relay messages three to seven miles away? They’re made of hollowed logs and sculpted to produce both high and low notes. Some African tribal drummers could actually mimic speech patterns and communicated over even longer distances.
- If you’ve ever tried a drumroll, you know speed isn’t as easy as it looks. So imagine the skill of Siddarth Nagarajan of India, who set a world record in 2017 for the most drum beats in one minute: 2,109! That means that Siddarth, who is (not surprisingly) a professional drummer, achieved 35 beats per second. Whew!
Why are the drums so compelling? Perhaps because a drumbeat sounds like a heartbeat, one of the first sounds we hear. Even as adults, a slow, melodic drumbeat will slow down our heartbeat, while a fast drumbeat will speed it up. Maybe drums also capture our imagination simply because drummers look so darn cool. Whatever the reason, we’ll keep enjoying the beat!