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Roundstone Musical Instruments
and the World of Bodhráns

The Instrument and Principles

The Secrets of the Bodhrán and How to play it

By Malachy Kearns

The Instrument and Principles

There are three basic drums to be found in the world; tubular, kettle and frame. The Bodhrán is a frame drum. it can come in many sizes and guises. The best drums are usually between 15" and 20" (18' is the standard drum). The rim (wooden part) can be 2" to 6", and made of ash, beech or similar pliable wood. The rim is usually made of thin strips of wood, layered and glued together, although there are examples of solid frames in use.

The important part of the drum is the skin. It can be deer, sheep, calf, goat or horse. The goatskin is the favourite (and the most expensive), because its thickness and durability is unbeatable. The skin, after a process of cleaning and treating is stretched across the frame and affixed by tacks at least 1" apart.

The Bodhrán may have a cross piece inserted. This can be one or two bars, which serve the dual purpose of easy handling and an aid to tension. The crosspiece or bars can be made of wire, wood or metal.

But of course some Bodhrán players prefer no cross piece at all . But I would recommend a cross piece to the complete beginner. As they say "Every little helps!"

The other essential piece of equipment for the Bodhrán player is the stick or 'tipper'! These like furniture come in all shapes and sizes and are made from various woods of varying weights.

It is essential that the player find a 'tipper' that suits, as there is nothing worse than a stick that is too long, too short, too heavy or too light, or one that has the 'gift of flight' in mid tune. One important point - always have two or three sticks, as the fairies have a tendency to run off with your stick just when you need it most.

It is very important to look after your drum skin. It is just like your own skin and is susceptible to changes in the weather and atmospheric changes. Most good Bodhrán makers can supply you with a treatment for the skin (a leather softener). But you can use 'dubbin' (used on football boots). Use this treatment at regular intervals on the outside of the skin. This will keep the skin supple and protect it from excess moisture (essential in Ireland's climate). Never leave the drum in very hot conditions e.g. near radiators, or on the back window of a car on a hot day. You will soon be the proud owner of a completely "banjaxed" drum if you ignore this advice.

Never play the drum when it is too soft or limp, this will eventually produce a dent in the skin, or a nice hole through which you can observe you fellow musicians having a great session of reels and jigs.

Keep the drum when not in use in a case in a cool place so that the skin can relax. You can then bring it to playing tension by gentle and expert use of a heat of your choice (not a blow torch or a bunsen burner). , '

If the skin is too tight, use a little water on the inside of the skin (not the outside) and give it a few minutes to work. Never use Beer or Guinness - save that for drinking. I also do not recommend tightening the skin with hand pressure - only if there is no other means of heating available.

Now you have your drum, the tipper of your choice and the basic do's and don'ts of the instrument - its time to learn the secrets of playing the beast!


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Roundstone Musical Instruments Ltd.
Malachy Kearns,
IDA Craft Centre,Roundstone,
Co. Galway, Ireland.

Tel:+353 95 35808
Fax:+353 95 35980
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