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Celtic Instruments : The Bodhran or Irish Frame Drum

The bodhran (form Irish “bodhar” : “dull sounding” or “deaf”) is a shallow one-sided frame drum whose frame or rim (as once players call it) is usually made of ash. It has been suggested that “bodhran” is a corruption of “bourine”. The name “bodhran” was given also to a winnowing tray of similar design in areas where no tradition had survived of its use as a percussion instrument.

It is approximately 60 cm in diameter and 12 cm deep. The head is most commonly made from goatskin (sometimes calf and even greyhound skin or deerskin is also used) and s fixed to the frame with brass rivets, although some earlier had the sink lapped completely round the frame, so that it tightens itself as it shrinks.

Previously it was associated with the annual foray of the Mummers, where the primary purpose of the bodhran seem to have been to produce a loud rhythmic sound announcing the arrival of a party of revelers, for example, the wren-hunting groups known as “wren boys” on the St Stephen’s Days. It was also used as an accompaniment to dance music and even to provide rhytms for dancing when no musician was available. It´s use by Seán O’Riada with his folk based band Ceoltóiri Cualann (latterly the Chieftains), made it popular, particularly among groups performing commercially. Many musicians regard it with derision or a t best, suspicion. The late Seamus Ennis, when asked how to play a bodhran, replied “With a penknife”. There are reasons for this attitude. It seems easy to play, to the non-musicians who want to be thought of as musicians, whatever the motivation, the results are sometimes execrable!. On the other hand, the bodhrán can give a good “lift” to a session or to solo playing. The combination of flute and drum is a well-tried one, and many flute-players actively like a good bodhran, and many flute players actively like a good bodhran accompaniment.

It is struck with a stick of ash or holly about 20-25 cm long, known in some areas as a tipper. This is held between the fingers and the wrist is moved in swivel fashion with the palm of the hand facing outwards, away from the instrument. In south-western districts the instrument is called a tambourine. The stick can vary considerably in shape and dimensions: some players jprefer to use one end of th stick, some like a leather loop on the stick, some like a big stick ad others like a wee stick. PLlaying with the hand involves a rocking motion between the thumb or ball of the thumb and the fingers or outside edge of the palm. Since the drum is open-ended, various shifts of the thumb and the fingers or outside the edge of the palm. Since the drum is open-+ended various shifts of timbre and pitch can be achieved by manipulating the hand, fingers, or arm on the inside of the skin, and some virtuoso players, notably Johnny “Ringo” McDonnagh of the folk band “De Dannan”, have developed this technique to a very high level. Some players also vary the sound by playing a few bars on the wooden rim of the bodhran or on the studs which hold the skin in place.

Hereby I attach some cool links selected for further information:

A Beginner’s Guide to Bodhran

Playing the Bodhran

Introduction to the Bodhran



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