The Talking Drums

Music Assignment Module 9 Arts Appreciation Honors

History of the Talking Drums

The history of talking drums can be traced all the way back to the Ghana Empire. These instruments were used by West African griots, or members of a group of travelling musicians, poets, and storytellers that maintain a tradition of oral history. Talking drums have come from several different regions, including the Yoruba people from south western Nigeria and the Dagomba of northern Ghana.

Cultural Significance of the Talking Drum

The talking drum was very important in regards to religious rituals that were commonly seen in different cultures. The Yoruba people played these talking drums for the Yoruba gods, also known as orishas. It is believed that the drums praised the orishas. When the tones of the drums are played, it is recognized as praising a god.
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Construction of the Talking Drum

The talking drum has an hourglass shape to it. To play the drum, you use a mallet to hit the drum on the drum head. One example of the craft of a talking drum is from the Yoruba people, consisting of a drum created from a single piece of wood topped with goatskin, equipped with leather cords used to adjust tones. Musical variation was added through bells and a circle of beeswax on the drum head.


Sizes vary depending on the tone of pitch needed and the culture in which the drum is being used. The smaller the drum, the higher the pitch.


Playing styles also varied on cultures and where in Africa the people were located. People farther west in Africa usually played through short bursts of sound and rapid rolls, while people farther east typically produced long and sustained notes.

Why would somebody buy a talking drum?

Someone would purchase a talking drum to recreate the sounds of ancient African instruments, which can be useful in many modern-day percussion ensembles. For example: The piece "Hand Jam" by Joel Smales features a talking drum alongside other ancient African instruments. The talking drum has also inspired many modern Latin drummers, including the members of the group "Talking Drums" and Michael Spiro.

Use of Talking Drums vs. Other Uses of Music in West Africa

Talking drums were generally played during religious rituals, but were also present in West African griots to pass down stories of history through music. Other uses of instruments in West African music include a lot of entertainment and work songs to pass the time while people were working. Religious rituals and ceremonies that mark major life events had a lot of music too.

Talking Drums and Griots

Talking drums were used in griots, which were groups of people, including musicians, poets, and storytellers that traveled, maintaining a tradition of oral history. The talking drum was used to help explain stories of the past and teach them to the people, so they could pass it on to others. Some cultures, especially the Hausa people of West Africa, created a genre of griot music that focuses on the talking drum.

Talking Drums and Modern Communication

Talking drums served as a way for the different tribes to communicate with each other, regardless of the language that they spoke. Nowadays, we have resources, such as Google Translate, that allow us to communicate with people all around the world. For example, you can follow other students who live in countries like China, Germany, etc. on social media platforms.
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