Lesson 1: Western Europe and the Nordic Countries–Instruments

Western European composers from the 16th to the late 19th centuries became masters of using all the symphonic instruments they had at their disposal–strings, woodwinds, percussion and more–intricately and brilliantly as they composed symphonies, concertos, operas and forms of work that formed the foundation of much of the rest of the world’s idea of “classical” music. With that said, Western European lute playing minstrels–and now, updated, almost any scruffy guy with a guitar–brought the concept of tightly-written verse-and-chorus story-songs with them wherever they went, including to even the furthest reaches of their nations’ colonial empires

The most essential role Western Europe may have played in the annals of global drumming may be the development of the snare drum, which is an essential component in the drum kit (or “trap set”). (Without the drum kit, today’s bands could potentially “rock,” but they would likely not ROCK.) The snare we know today developed over several hundred years, starting as a Medieval tabor, which was popular in Provence and the Basque region in the 1300, and became a feature not only of British medieval music but of fife and “side drum” sets used in Swiss and Ottoman military processions. The “snare” actually refers to a strands of snares made of metal wire or another form of cable stretched across the inside of the drum head which make a high-pitched buzz sound when the drum is vibrating. (Enjoy some of the twists and turns in the history of the snare in this “history of the snare drum.”)

Though over the last several decades the trap set has dominated Western European and Nordic popular music, several genres of music around the region still feature hand drums of the past. Could one do a Greenlandic Drum Dance like “E Qee Qee,” while sitting on one of those little round stools behind a trap set? What would Spanish/Moorish music in the middle ages have been without the square, double-headed frame drum known as the adufe (or sometimes as the pandeiro, not to be confused with the Brazilian samba drum of the same name)? What would a Finnish Sámi music be without a reindeer hide ? And how would one ever do an Irish jig to the beat of a bodhrán without bodhrán?

When a drum appears in Spanish flamenco it’s often a box drum known as a cajon. Cajon or no, flamenco rhythms are an intricate and intriguing mix of Andalusian, Moroccan/Moorish, Romani and even Jewish (Sephardic) cycles. Check out the Compás Flamenco introduction to flamenco rhythms where you’ll learn that “flamenco rhythms are usually of either 12, 4 or 3 beats. The rhythmic units is called Compás, thus one Compás includes either 12, 4, or 3 beats. Most flamenco styles (Palos) have 12 beats….” Listen, for example, to soleá, a 12 beat Compás with emphasis on beats 3, 10 and 12, or to an example of the 12 beat bulería, for two “palmeros” who are clapping, which is “rhythmically maybe the most difficult, but also most exciting style.” For examples using flamenco guitar, try this page where you’ll be able to hear a guitar play the soleá, emphasizing 3, 10 and 12.

A major exception to Western European drum kit culture is Greek folk music, which, showing its Ottoman/Middle Eastern influence, features the healthy array of hand drums one would expect to find in a West Asian or Middle Eastern nation:

the daouli: a two-headed cylindrical drum that is related to the Turkish davul. Watch “Rumen sitting in with Fotia at the Belmont Greek Festival” on his daouli.

the defi: a Greek frame drum with jingles similar to the Persian daf.

the toumbi: A small drum similar to the douli that the drummer holds under his or her left arm and strikes with two drum sticks, and,

a doumbek: a doumbek is a doumbek is a doumbek.

Greek music also betrays its Eastern European and West Asian roots in its many intricate rhythms in non-standard time signatures, as you will learn from this guy, who introduces us to many Greek rhythms on his buzuki.

Explore these instruments from Western Europe and the Nordic Countries:

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