Different Drums, Same Groove: A Comparison in the development of Function and Approach between Bodhrán and Jazz Drum Set

Tyler Dean Stark


Many percussion instruments that accompany other instruments, especially in the Western world, follow a similar development from functioning as “the time-keeper” and pulse of the ensemble to their own independent voice within the group.  The path of change and evolution can be seen from percussion instruments in the jazz and rock genres, with the evolution of the drum set; and in the traditional Irish music genre, with the development of the bodhrán.  The common development within these styles has little to no influence upon one another, which shows an underlying connection within these collective cultures.  This then points towards a common development model for the function of percussion instruments that is effected by the growing acceptance of the instruments, how the music and the listener co-evolve, and an increasing demand for technicality and musicianship as time passes.  Such a process is especially highlighted by the similar developments of the function of the drum set in American jazz music and the function of the bodhrán in traditional Irish music.

Based on my investigation and analysis of presentations, lectures, interviews, scholarly articles and books, and audio recordings, I have reached the conclusion that the previously mentioned development model exists and creates a link between the functions of these two percussion traditions.  The model begins with the origin of how these instruments were used in a celebratory context and then proceeds with four stages that are as follows: the Time-Keeper phase, the Experimental phase, the Virtuosic/Melodic phase, and the Globalization/Fusion phase.  This shows a progression of these instruments being used in a very basic manner to gaining an independent voice within the ensemble.

This model supports the concept that there is a link in the human understanding of how music develops in the Western world and that the role of the percussionist tends to evolve along a similar path in both the collective culture of Western society and its subcultures.


Percussion; Progression; Function

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