A drumhead is a membrane stretched over one or both of the open ends of a drum. The drumhead is struck with sticks, mallets, or hands so that it vibrates and the sound resonates through the drum.
Originally, drumheads were made from animal skin. In 1957, Remo Belli began manufacturing drumheads made from mylar. These plastic drumheads are cheaper, more durable, and less sensitive to weather than animal skin heads, so they are used by a great majority of drummers. Despite the benefits of plastic heads, many timpanists and orchestral percussionists prefer animal (typically calf) skin heads because they tend to produce a warmer, more pleasant sound. Drummers in historical reenactment groups such as fife and drum corps also use animal skin heads for historical accuracy. Skin heads are used on most hand drums, including djembes and congas.
On American railroads of the first half of the 20th century, the term drumhead referred to a removable lighted sign that was posted on the rear of passenger trains. The sign consisted of a fully enclosed box with lights inside it that would light up a tinted panel showing the train's or the railroad's logo. Since the box and the sign were usually circular in shape, they resembled small drums; thus these signs came to be known as drumheads.
Railroad drumheads were removable so they could be mounted on different passenger cars (usually on the rear of observations) as needed for specific trains.
The word drumhead may also refer to a summary court-martial that tries on the battlefield. This derived from the use of an actual drumhead as the judge's "table".
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46