Week 5: Talking drum

What is special about this drum? Where does it come from?

How does this drum "talk?"

Can you send messages with a talking drum?

Talking drum

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Where does this drum come from? Who uses it?

This is a "talking drum" from West Africa. Drums like this have been used for generations by griots (pronounced "GREE-oh"), or storytellers, but in recent times their use has also spread to popular music.

What is special about this drum? How does it "talk?"

Talking drums can mimic the musical patterns of people speaking. The leather cords on the side control the tension of the drumhead. When it is held under one arm, the cords can be squeezed so that when it is hit, the sound of the drum changes.

Can you send messages with a talking drum?

Yes! However, many African languages place more importance on tone than we do in English, which means there are parts of words that are easier to communicate with an instrument. When using the drum this way, one would make up for the loss of syllable information by simply using more words. This need for word-padding led to standardized "drum languages" (like a code) for important messages, as well as more free-form poetic expression.