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In the western musical tradition, the most usual shape is a cylinder, although timpani, for example, use bowl-shaped shells.Other shapes include a frame design (tar, Bodhrán), truncated cones (bongo drums, Ashiko), goblet shaped (djembe), and joined truncated cones (talking drum).

Several factors determine the sound a drum produces, including the type, shape and construction of the drum shell, the type of drum heads it has, and the tension of these drumheads.

Different drum sounds have different uses in music. A jazz drummer may want drums that are high pitched, resonant and quiet whereas a rock drummer may prefer drums that are loud, dry and low-pitched.

Since these drummers want different sounds, their drums are constructed and tuned differently.

Drums acquired even divine status in places such as Burundi, where the karyenda was a symbol of the power of the king.

The shell almost invariably has a circular opening over which the drumhead is stretched, but the shape of the remainder of the shell varies widely.

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