A Brief History of Drums in Latin American Music

By | 16 November, 2018

When thinking of music many people think of big bands. An entire ensemble of instruments all playing together in harmony. People also think of different genres of music, hailing from places around the world. Latin America has a large influence in the music world, breaking boundaries of sound.

The history of Latin American music is long and complex, tied together with experimentation and use of various instruments. An especially important instrument in the history of Latin American music is the drum.

The Beginning

Drums were first used during ceremonies held by indigenous peoples in South America. Some popular instruments that have made it into mainstream popularity include congas and bongos. These were made out of materials found by the peoples, from leathered animal skins to hollowed out trees and shells.

The drums were used for parades, which involved heavy step-based dancing. This is because they created a heavy, trance beat that became increasingly popular as time continued. Drums were also incorporated as the main instrument to carry the base.

During this time, before colonization, the musical beats were traditionally based on the sounds heard in the local areas. They were very based on nature.

The Middle

During colonization, the melding of Spanish and Latin drum beats became very apparent. These was also the addition of African drum culture with the shipments of slaves that were forced across the Atlantic. Music was one of the few cultural aspects they were able to keep.

Drum rhythms, dances, and songs grew in number greatly during this time, because of the exchanging of cultures. Latin American music was heavily influenced by the African sound, including heavier use of percussion.

Especially in the Caribbean, native peoples mixed with these groups of slaves and created a new style of music. The development of jazz music was a big factor in the diversification of Latin music rhythms.

The Now

Latin American music is one of the most diverse branches of music today. These are influences from native tribes such as Mayas and Aztecs. Also from European colonizers like the Spanish and the Portuguese, and from African slaves taken across the ocean from their homes.

Because of this melding of sounds, Latin music uses drums the most creatively. They are, of course, an essential part of the base of any song, but they are also used to add additional flair and differentiate a Latin music piece from another genre.

The different genres in Latin music all have their own specific drum patterns. The mambo, a popular Latin rhythm, uses the drums to heat up dance floors because of it’s exciting, driving quality. Mambo saw its prime in the 1940s and 1950s, but it has influenced a lot of modern Latin styles.

Most namely Reggaetón and Latin Urban music use the same driving drum beat to pump up the crowd and create perfect dance music. The drums in these two Latin rhythms have a lot of pulsing beats that reach into the core of dancers.

Learning Latin Rhythms

Latin rhythm techniques and styles are great to add to an aspiring drummers’ repertoire. Not only does it allow you to perform different pieces with ease, it also influences your music writing. Overall learning Latin rhythms will make you a much better musician.

When diving into a music history as rich as that of Latin America’s, it’s important to have the right equipment. If you are looking for drums that will help you capture that Latin sound, at Drum Center of Portsmouth they offer amazing drums for any level.

It’s also important to have the right teacher. Make sure you can either find an in-person teacher who knows what they are doing, or online resources that are credible and worth their money.

The most expensive option isn’t always the best. You can always find someone immersed in Latin American music culture and learn from them.


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