Bass Drum

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Etymology and Alternative Spellings

Fr: grosse caisse; Ger: Grosse Trommel; It: gran cassa; Sp: bombo
Bass Drum with Pedal
Kick Drum


The bass drum is an orchestral instrument with a range in diameter from 32 to 40 inches, and a wooden shell depth of 18 to 22 inches. Almost always the drum will consist of a batter head and a resonant head. The material that the heads are made of are either calfskin or synthetic vellum and the drum is typically mounted on a stand so that it may be turned at different angles for volume and resonance.


The bass drum was first seen and heard from the Janissary bands of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Unlike today, the bass drum player of the Jannisary bands would use both hands in order to play the instrument. In one hand the player would use a wooden mallet, covered by some sort of cloth material, to keep a steady pulse. In the other hand the palyer would carry a switch which would have a higher pitch when the drum was struck. This allowed for the player to produce rhythmic passages over the top of the steady pulse. This type of technique was used all the way up unitl the French grand operas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Another early form of the orchestral bass drum seen today is known as the long drum. The name was given to the drum due to its longer body than the diameter of the circular shell. Some people believe that this drum might have been used by Mozart and Beethoven in their early Turkish-inspired music.

Sticks, Mallets, Beaters



Stroke Style/Type










See Also