Instruments | Bass Drum | Percussion
Like the snare drum and tenor drum, the bass drum originated in the Middle East. It is a large instrument with a cylindrical body and two heads, and is the drum used to keep the rhythm in marching bands.
The modern orchestral bass drum (100 cm/70 in diameter and 50 cm/20 in long) is double headed and rod tensioned. Although single-headed orchestral bass drums were popular in the late-nineteenth century, the enclosed cylinder of air in a double-headed drum gives a greater depth of tone and more carrying power at a range of different dynamics. The bass drum is usually played with large soft felt or woollen beaters.
Orchestral bass drums are mounted on a stand, but in a marching band the bass drum is held in a harness in front of the player. With the snare drum or tenor drum, they start the music with three or five paced rolls to establish the tempo, and give aural cues during the march – such as the double tap played towards the end of the final phrase as a signal that the music is about to end.
A bass drum can be very loud. The lambeg drums of Northern Ireland (90 cm/36 in diameter and 60 cm/24 in wide) are capable of playing at above 120 dB – the same volume as a pneumatic drill. Like the African djembe, the drumheads are tuned almost to breaking point and a fundamental tone like a fizzing or buzzing sound builds up inside the body of the drum, which can be heard a mile or more away. Lambeg drums are played with curved canes, rather than traditional beaters.
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