Drum kit for the band Pussytoes, August 3, 2018.
clock pragmatic historian time timekeeper

Using Sound to Keep Time

Drum kit for the band Pussytoes, August 3, 2018.
Drum kit for the band Pussytoes, August 3, 2018.

Which of these things is not like the others?

With my penchant for clocks as the visual theme for The Pragmatic Historian, does today’s featured image of drums come as a surprise?

It may seem on the surface that clocks and drums have nothing to do with each other, but both are timekeeping devices. Clocks tell us what time it is within the day, but drums establish the tempo for other musicians to follow. The pace of the drums helps set the mood of a song. Drummers are judged on how consistently they keep time within the course of a song.

When you think about it, sound is one of the primary ways we track time. Clocks, particularly mechanical ones but even battery-powered ones, tick off the minutes. Some clocks, including those within courthouses or other public buildings, chime to mark the hours. Some even cuckoo the hours.

Churches have bells to ring in times for services or other church activities. Schools use bells to mark the start of classes and these, of course, are tied into clocks.

Manufacturing plants, including Hennepin Paper Mill, which used to be in Little Falls, MN, had whistles to mark shift times. The Hennepin mill had a giant brass steam whistle at the top of its smokestack for this purpose. I believe it used to blow at noon and 5 p.m.

And, we mustn’t forget alarms on alarm clocks. The background “tick, tick, tick” of a clock is enough to put you to sleep, but the alarm will fix that at the appropriate time.

Metronomes with their steady “tick, tick, tick” help set the pace for beginning drummers and other musicians who don’t have a drummer handy.

Can you think of other ways in which we use sound to keep time? Please share in the comments.

Bob Huebner, drummer for The Nothingheads, at a show at the Keller Bar in St. Cloud, MN, August 3, 2018. Bob has more stamina than the Energizer Bunny in keeping time on the drums.
Bob Huebner, drummer for The Nothingheads, at a show at the Keller Bar in St. Cloud, MN, August 3, 2018. Bob has more stamina than the Energizer Bunny in keeping time on the drums.