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What Are Chinese Drums Called? Revealed!

by Madonna

Drums hold a significant place in Chinese culture and music, serving as essential instruments in various traditional ceremonies, performances, and rituals. Dating back centuries, Chinese drums have been integral to both secular and religious practices, symbolizing power, unity, and auspiciousness.

In Chinese culture, drums are not just musical instruments but also symbolic objects with deep cultural and spiritual significance. They play a vital role in folk music, opera, martial arts performances, and religious ceremonies, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of China.

Names of Chinese Drums

The Chinese term for drum is “鼓” (gǔ), which encompasses a wide range of drum types and styles. Here are some of the most common names for Chinese drums:

大鼓 (Dà gǔ): The “big drum” is a large, deep-bodied drum typically played with large drumsticks. It produces a booming, resonant sound and is often used to provide a steady beat and rhythmic foundation in traditional Chinese music.

小鼓 (Xiǎo gǔ): The “small drum” is a smaller-sized drum that produces a higher-pitched sound compared to the big drum. It is often used in conjunction with the big drum to create dynamic rhythms and accents in performances.

佛鼓 (Fó gǔ): The “Buddhist drum” or “lion dance drum” is a type of drum used in Buddhist rituals and lion dance performances. It is typically adorned with colorful decorations and played to accompany ceremonial dances and processions.

Construction and Materials

Chinese drums are typically constructed using a combination of wood, animal leather, and metal. The drum shell is commonly made from wood, such as oak, maple, or elm, which is carefully selected for its resonance and durability. The drumheads are traditionally made from animal skins, such as cowhide or goatskin, stretched tightly over the drum shell to produce a clear, resonant tone.

The drumhead is attached to the drum shell using metal hoops or rings, which are tightened to adjust the tension of the drumhead and fine-tune the sound of the drum. Additional decorative elements, such as painted designs, carvings, or tassels, may be added to enhance the visual appeal of the drum and imbue it with cultural symbolism.

Types and Uses

Chinese drums come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles, each with its own unique characteristics and uses. Here are some of the most common types of Chinese drums and their specific purposes:

Tanggu (堂鼓): The tanggu is a traditional Chinese drum that dates back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD). It features a cylindrical body with a single drumhead and is typically played in pairs to produce powerful, rhythmic patterns in traditional Chinese music and opera performances.

Lion Dance Drum (舞狮鼓): Also known as the fo gu, the lion dance drum is used in traditional lion dance performances during festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year. It is played to accompany the movements of lion dancers and create a festive atmosphere with its lively rhythms and percussive beats.

War Drum (战鼓): The war drum is a large, deep-bodied drum that was historically used on the battlefield to rally troops and intimidate enemies. It produces a thunderous, booming sound and is often played during martial arts demonstrations and reenactments of historical battles.


In Chinese culture, drums symbolize power, strength, and unity, representing the spirit of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. They are often associated with auspicious occasions and festive celebrations, where their rhythmic beats are believed to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck and prosperity to the community.

Drums also hold religious significance in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, where they are used in rituals and ceremonies to invoke blessings and offer prayers to the gods. The act of playing the drum is seen as a form of spiritual devotion and a means of connecting with the divine.

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Playing Techniques

Chinese drums are typically played using drumsticks, which are held in both hands and used to strike the drumhead with varying degrees of force and precision. Different playing techniques, such as single strokes, double strokes, and rolls, can be used to produce a wide range of rhythmic patterns and dynamic accents.

In addition to drumsticks, Chinese drums may also be played using hands or mallets, depending on the specific style of music or performance. Drummers often incorporate intricate hand gestures and body movements to enhance the visual and auditory impact of their playing, creating a captivating and immersive experience for the audience.

Historical Context

The history of Chinese drums dates back thousands of years, with archaeological evidence suggesting that drums were used in ancient China as far back as the Neolithic period (circa 5000-2000 BC). Over the centuries, drums evolved from simple percussion instruments made from animal skins and hollowed-out logs to sophisticated musical instruments with intricate designs and cultural symbolism.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), drums became an integral part of court music and ceremonial rituals, with elaborate ensembles featuring multiple drummers playing in unison to create majestic, symphonic soundscapes. The popularity of drums continued to grow during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), where they were used in various musical genres, including opera, folk music, and religious ceremonies.

One of the most iconic examples of traditional Chinese drums is the tanggu, which has been played for centuries in traditional Chinese music and opera performances. With its deep, resonant sound and rich cultural heritage, the tanggu remains an enduring symbol of Chinese musical tradition and artistic expression.


In conclusion, Chinese drums hold a special place in Chinese culture and music, serving as powerful symbols of unity, strength, and spirituality. From ancient battlefields to modern-day performances, these iconic instruments continue to captivate audiences with their rhythmic beats and cultural significance, bridging the gap between past and present and connecting people across generations and borders.

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