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