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But is it Music?!


Badda Boom, Badda Bing!!


     It is often suggested that the roots of music are set deepest within the drum. Cave people with sticks and bongos, we deduce. Maybe it’s the fact that a drum’s beat relies on the use of a small club, or that the drum itself may be wearing an animal hide.

     Perhaps we first fashioned this most basic form of percussion after our own heartbeats, or the sound of water dripping in our caves. We could’ve simply invented it too…yet it all seems so natural. This begs the question: “Which came first, the eardrum or the talking drum?”

     What is most perplexing is that this fundamental of music apparently has no song. In nearly every culture, regardless of the vast differences in instruments, structure or scale, we can find some form of drum-like percussion. It is usually overlaid with instruments or voice, or as an intermission of sorts, but rarely played solitarily. Compare this to the guitar, piano or voice, all of which are commonly played without any form of accompaniment.

     The rock’n’roll drum kit, with its full set of drums and cymbals is still not enough to captivate most listeners for more than a few minutes at a time. This seems to suggest that even when the drumwork is full-bodied, it is apparently lacking something. The Blue Man Group overlaid their percussions with blue heads and vaudevillian theatrics to  create a marketable act, while the troupe Stomp! applied choreography to captivate. Meanwhile, Mason Williams was able to become a part of hippie history armed only with his guitar solo “Classical Gas”.  No song and dance required there. What is so different about drums that they insist on accompaniment?

     A drumbeat is a series of ‘whacks’, which, if heard independently would only be considered raw noise. Is a single drumbeat considered music? If a single drumbeat is music, is not the sound of an acorn having fallen from its tree also music? Music to a squirrels ears, no doubt.

     If you place a long, steady series of whacks together and muffle it a bit, you get the distinct sound of a racecar engine. This would be proven by renowned drummer Alex Van Halen in 1984. He created a convincing drums-only replica of a powerful, idling engine for the smash hit song “Hot For Teacher”. Listening more carefully, a subtle offbeat melody appears over its mechanical rhythm.

     Indeed, by playing with the timing, a drum can build melody from mere whacks, even if the whacks themselves are monotonous. How easily we recognize that classic knock on the door “dum-dum da dum-dum…dum dum” as “Shave and a haircut – two bits!”

     The drum, then, is a seemingly ubiquitous essential of world music that gets little privacy; forever relying on flavor enhancements like an acoustic meat and potatoes. It may be the pearl of the stage or the carrier of elevator music. The drumwork may be as lively and detailed an expression as a head-banger solo or as plain and unmemorable as the ticks of a metronome. It may be played as rigidly as a clockwork or as splashy as a river’s rapids. In nearly every culture, and throughout known history, it seems you just can’t beat the sound of a drum - but is it music…?!



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