Pah-Rum-Pum-Pum: Follow the Drum

As every baby who's ever beaten a spoon against her high chair knows, there's nothing more fun than the rhythm of a pounding drum sound. Fast or slow, loud or soft, people around the world use the drum to build community spirit.

In Africa, legend says the story drum was created long ago in a time of hardship to help the people celebrate and remember what was good about their lives as they tell their stories to its rhythms.

Japan's esteemed Noh and Kabuki theaters use a drum called the taiko and other traditional instruments to create sound effects as the actors perform stories from the past. A drum is also used in sumo wrestling matches to get the audience's attention as the competition begins and during festivals.

Native Americans share their heritage with drum music at powwows. The drum rhythms, often accompanied by ancient song, provide an essential part of the performance. Their music tells the stories of victories won and legends of their gods.

If you visit Colonial Williamsburg, you may see a parade of the military fife and drum. Drummers with the Colonial army were as young as ten years old. Their snare drums provided music for the army's march, and the drum beats carried a commander's orders far across the field to his troops.

You can make a simple drum just by turning over a metal bowl and hitting it. Try banging on it with a metal spoon. Then, try a wooden spoon to see how different the sound is. If your parents happen to have stackable bowls in sizes from small to large (and they say it's okay!), hear the different sounds the bowls make when you strike them.

A drum is a percussion instrument, meaning that you beat it to make the sound. Other percussion instruments are the xylophone, the hammered dulcimer, the marimba, and the piano. Sometimes, drummers will use brushes on their drums to create swishing sounds, hard like rain or soft like snow, depending on what they use. Many times, cymbals are played alongside of drums to add more excitement to the music.

Look below for stories and Web sites about drums and drumming:

In the Library

The Aunts Go Marching by Maurie J. Manning.
A little girl beating a drum leads her aunts, one-by-one, two-by-two, and so on, through the rainy city streets in this silly picture book which helps to teach numbers.

Boom, Baby, Boom, Boom! by Margaret Mahy.
Mama's trying to practice her drums while Baby's supposed to be eating her lunch. But the lunch ends up on the floor, and farm animals munch along in time to the drum rhythm: "Boom-biddy-boom-biddy MOO-MOO-MOO!"

The Christmas Drum by Maureen Brett Hooper.
Native American Pow Wow DancerThe Romanian tradition of caroling in the village on Christmas eve is called colindat. This year, Peter must take his father's place and play the duba, a little drum, so the music will be as sweet ever. Includes joyful illustrations by Diane Paterson.

Eagle Drum: On the Powwow Trail with a Young Grass Dancer by Robert Crum.
Indian Powwows of today feature culturally significant dances that are a way for Indians to share their customs with non-Indians. They are also a way to pass down sacred teachings to their children. Join nine-year-old Louis, a member of the Pend Oreille tribe, as he dances to a drum beat that spans centuries and unites cultures.

The Leopard's Drum: An Asante Tale from West Africa by Jessica Souhami.
Because Osebo the leopard won't share his magnificent drum with anyone, Nyame the Sky-God offers a reward to whichever animal presents the drum to him. A good choice for storytime.

Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story by Romare Bearden.
When a company of black Union soldiers tells L'il Dan that he is no longer a slave, he follows them, and uses his beloved drum to save them from attack.

The Magic Drum: Stories From Africa's Savannah, Sea, and Skies by Bridget King, Jonti Marks, and Gillian Leggat.
Three enchanting stories with elements of magic and fantasy set amidst the sea, sky, savannah of Africa and featuring the animals, chiefs and children.

To Be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman.
Daddy Wes tells how Africans were brought to America as slaves, but promises his children that as long as they can hear the rhythm of the earth, they will be free.

On the Web

Homemade Percussion & Junkmusic
African drumYou might want to skip the fishskin drum, but there are many useful and creative ideas here for percussion instruments: coffee can drums, tube drums, and metal bowls as well as a homemade xylophone and Surdo (Brazilian bass drum) mallets.

Older kids with some musical background will enjoy this database of drum lessons. Note: in the Beginning section, Lesson 1 is listed as Lesson 2.

The Stealing of the Drums
This folktale from Ghana was collected by Peace Corps workers in the 1980s. Also available to listen to as an mp3 file.

Super Sounding Drums
Zoom! This site from PBS tells how to make an impressive-sounding drum with a few simple materials available around the house and at a hardware store.