Instruments | Frame Drum | Percussion

A frame drum is a skin stretched over and nailed to a shallow square or circular frame. It is played with sticks or with the hands.

Frame drums are common to many musical cultures, and the modern tambourine and bodhrán are essentially the same instruments that were being played in Arabia and India in pre-Islamic times. They are often played by dancers, and may be painted and decorated with ribbons and pieces of material – like the timbrels played by members of the Salvation Army. The drum may also have jingles set into the frame, like the tambourine and riq, or have a snare stretched across the drum head, like the bendir from the Middle East.


The tambourine (15–25 cm/6–10 in diameter and 5 cm/2 in deep) is a circular wooden hoop with a calfskin or plastic head. Small metal discs like miniature cymbals are mounted singly or in pairs in openings in the hoop, and held in place with pins. The tambourine is commonly used in orchestral and folk music, especially in central and southern Europe. A tambourine without a head – known as a ching ring or jingle ring (schellenreif) – is often used in pop and Latin-American music.

The tambourine head can be struck with the flat palm, with a closed fist, or the knuckles. It can be rested on the knee or a soft-topped table and played with fingertips. It can also be shaken to rattle the jingles and create a tremolo effect. A thumb roll can be produced by rubbing the head with a moistened thumb tip to make the head shudder and the jingles vibrate.


The bodhrán (30–45 cm/12–18 in diameter and 10 cm/4 in deep) has a circular wooden frame and a goatskin head. It is played with a double-headed stick, with brushes or with the knuckles and fingers. The frame is bent from green wood, and is held in shape by crossbars to prevent the drum from warping. It is held vertically, with the left hand (or non-dominant hand) holding the cross bars, and the right hand playing the instrument.

The bodhrán has existed in Ireland for centuries, but has only been used in traditional music performance since the 1960s – previously being used in warfare and celebrations as a noisemaker. Contemporary performing techniques focus on producing a range of tones from the drum. These include pressing the left hand or a slide bar against the skin to vary the pitch while playing, dampening the sound with the flat of the left hand, and creating a more ringing sound by pressing with the edge of the left hand while playing the drum with the right hand. The drum can also be played on the rim, and can have shakers and bells attached to the crossbars. The bodhrán is played in Irish traditional music and in Celtic folk-rock music. It also appears in Peter Maxwell Davies’ (b. 1934) Fifth Symphony.

Introduction | Percussion Instruments

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Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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