The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit Jan12

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Drum Kit...

We’ve all seen them or heard them, whether we listen to Rock music, Jazz, Country, and increasingly Classical: the drum kit. Sometimes referred to as a drum set, or “trap” set, this is the collection of percussion instruments collected onto a rack system so that they can be played by a single individual. When you hear some child saying he wants to play drums, this is usually what they mean. The earliest forms of the drum set date to the late nineteenth century, in particular in connection with Vaudeville and other small performance venues. These arrangements of percussion instruments were imperative to having the benefit of a full percussion section using the minimum of space. A bass drum would be set on its side on the floor where it could be played by the foot, thus giving it the name “kick drum” which is still used today. A concert snare drum (a flatter version of the field drums military bands used which had catgut or wire strands stretched across the bottom head which vibrate sympathetically to the top head being struck) would typically be placed to the left of the bass drum between the legs. Usually a floor tom (a larger, un-snared drum) would be placed to the right of the bass drum. In addition, other auxiliary percussion instruments would be mounted or placed close at hand, such as cymbals, whistles, cowbells, and anything else the music called for. The whole set up was colloquially called a “contraption”, which appears to have been the origin for calling a drum set a “trap” set. Another possible reason for the term was that early kits had a bass drum with a trap door in the shell to use it as a box for transporting smaller percussion...

Stirring the Pot Jul08

Stirring the Pot

I was reading up on one of my favorite icons of nostalgia recently, Schoolhouse Rock. For those not familiar with it, it was a series of short cartoons shown during commercial breaks during Saturday morning cartoons. They were all educational in nature, starting with the basics of grammar and then delving into multiplication tables. Eventually, they included science and American history, and much later basic finance, and  a spin-off on computers. Each one covered its topic with a specially written pop song and animation. If you’ve heard of “Conjunction Junction”, “I’m Just a Bill”, or “Interplanet Janet”, this is where they came from. I was dumbfounded when I read that one of the modern criticisms about the series is that most of the songs aren’t actually “rock”. They explained that some are jazz, others are R&B, and still others are folk music. Then I understood that younger generations don’t understand that there was a time that all these and many other types of music were all grouped together under the umbrella of “rock music”. In the 60s through the early 80s, anything that was even remotely pop music considered itself rock. Rock radio stations could be expected to play anything from AC/DC to Vangelis to The Manhattan Transfer to Ronnie Milsap. I suppose it was inevitable that by the mid 80s the range of musical styles would cause the whole genre to fragment, and while some acts tried to bridge the widening gaps (like ZZ Top with the ill-conceived “Velcro Fly” music video) inevitably the public’s tastes became so polarized that almost no one identified themselves as rock fans anymore. Even the later Schoolhouse Rock shorts abandoned any pretense of being rock in any way. It should come as no surprise that all this...