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Started by Lady Renee Buchanan, June 24, 2008, 05:37:17 PM

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Lady Renee Buchanan

I am signed up for a drumming workshop in Sept.  I don't play a drum now, but I've always wanted to learn to play the Bodhran (probably spelled wrong, I bet).

Is there anyone who could give me advice on buying one?  I'd like to take my own to the workshop, not sure if they will have one I could use. 

Since I'm a complete beginner, I don't need the same quality as one who uses the instrument on a daily basis while performing, but I don't want a Wallie-world type one either.

Any info on the different sizes, etc., and possible websites to look at would be much appreciated.  Since I just signed up -- I thought it sounded like a lot of fun -- I haven't started a search for a drum yet.  I figure since I have 2 1/2 months, I still have some time.  And I know that there is such a talented group of people on this forum, I'm sure there are some that can steer me in the right direction.

Thanks for the help.   ;D
A real Surf Diva
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Member since the beginning of RF
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you spelled it right. :)

I do a little with bodhran, but only as a sideline - mostly I stick to strings or flutes. The two drums I have are a cheapy Pakistani 16" and a Roundstone/Malachy Kearns 18"... both need water to sound anything close to decent... though the latter I just got a week ago and is still settling in I'm sure.

Honestly, it depends on how much you want to spend. The Pakistani ones - once you wet them down enough - are surprisingly not that bad for the $30-$40 you'll spend on them (as compared to their harps, which are horrid). I'd honestly not be ashamed at all of one of those if it's all I could easily afford... though I'll admit my standards are lower for instruments you beat on. ;)

In the $100-$120 range the only ones that come immediately to mind are the Roundstone and the Waltons, of which the former has the much better reputation from what I could find.

After that, prices rapidly climb up into the several hundreds of dollars with various custom makers.

So far as dealers, I'm partial to Hobgoblin Music - excellent prices and VERY helpful, nice people!

A site you might want to check out (just found it myself last week, and it has lots of neat bodhran stuff) is

PS - I'd suggest not bothering with the drums with painted designs on the face - you'll be messing up the paint anyways when you play.

Lady Renee Buchanan

Thanks for the info.  I'll definitely look up the site.  Another question.  This weekend at a faire we went to, there were 2 bodhran players.  One had a smaller size, the other had a huge one.  The smaller one was thicker in the wood around it, maybe a depth of 6 inches or so (they were up on a stage so it was hard to estimate).  The huge one looked only to be half as deep.

Not being musical, I don't know the difference between them.  Is it the sound?  Is one harder to play than the other?  I'm assuming the cost must be a factor in bigger being more expensive?

Thanks for the help.
A real Surf Diva
Landshark who loves water
Chieftesse Surf'n Penny of Clan O'Siodhachain,
Irish Penny Brigade
Giver of Big Hugs 
Member since the beginning of RF
All will be well. St. Julian of Norwich


I am by no means any sort of expert on bodhrans, but at least to my ear, the size and depth of the drum does have an effect on the tone that the drum puts forth, as well as what may be coaxed from the drum.  For example, at TX Scottish Festival, on Saturday morning, Randy & Nelson of The Rogues both used their regular bodhrans... larger diameter, not quite as deep, with the cross bars on the back.  When playing these, they virtually always stand, and because they are supporting the drum with that hand, there is a limit to what they can do with that hand to make changes to the tone.  During the evening show, Randy pulled out a smaller diameter, a little deeper drum, and sat to play it, resting the bottom edge on his leg for most of the support, which allowed the hand in the back of the drum to shift more, both around the inside of the head, but also with different movements, cupping his hand, using only the edge, etc. which totally changes the sounds coming out. 
Emily Dugas, of Clandestine is a most amazing bodhran player, the variety of sounds that come from her drum are incredible.

Honestly, I have no idea which is better for a beginner, but would be interested to know that as well.
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Yup, the broader and deeper the drum, the deeper the tone. The more "traditional" bodhrans are around 16-18" across with a simple crosspiece inside. More modern ones are often deeper, have a different bracing inside (or none at all), and may be tunable - it's the fashion now to have a sort of "embroidery hoop" sitting just under the skin inside the rim, which can be adjusted with screw pressure to change the skin tension. And yes, most of those changes will make a drum more expensive. Again, not being a dedicated percussionist I just have the old simple kind and am perfectly content with that.

You'll also notice folks wetting down the skin of the drum, adding a bit of water before playing. That's what can turn a scratchy "pizza box" sounding drum into a nice full booming tone. It's also the older way of tuning 'em - more water means looser skin means a lower sound. Careful though, add *too* much and they just get all floppy and there's no sound to speak of at all. You'll find how much to use is an acquired skill - a couple teaspoons is about right. Be sure to take into account some time for the water to soak in - if you just keep adding water until it sounds right, you'll have a floppy drum in about three minutes.

raevyncait is quite right when she notes that a good deal - arguably most -of the art of the bodhran is in what the supporting hand inside the drum is doing. By placing tension on different parts of the skin with you can change the pitch and tone of the sound. Spend enough time with it, and you even get almost "melodic" with the bodhran that way.

Also yes, it's much easier to keep a hold of the thing while standing with a crosspiece in there, so I prefer 'em that way. I've heard the more professional types are leaning away from that these days though. I can only say my own bad habits sometimes have me using the back of my hand against the crosspiece to help brace the drum in position while I'm standing. While it gives decent control and tone in that position, it really does a number on the tendons on the back of my hand so um.... do as I say, not as I do.  :P

Most of all, have fun!

NoBill Lurker

You also might like to check out this video tutor "Tommy Hayes BODHRAN Bones & Spoons"  ( VHS )
Lots of info, but for the life of me I can't remember where I picked it up?
So what are you doing this weekend?
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This gentleman offers lessons and builds his own. I didn't see a "location" in your profile but he has some great links
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My daughter started playing bodhran about 3 years ago, when when was 10. She started out with one of the smaller diameter, deeper ones, as we thought it would be easier for her to handle with her smaller arms and hands. In fact, it was the opposite -- when you're starting out, and have not developed a lot of precision with your tipper hand, playing a larger one is actually a lot easier. We ended up getting her an 18 inch, and she's happier with that. She does usually still play sitting, as the weight of it gets to be a bit much for her. The only other advice I've got is that you should probably spend enough to get a skin head (usually goatskin) instead of plastic. I think we paid about $90 for hers, it's not fancy by any means but it's sturdy and sounds good. We bought it from a local folk music shop, but like another poster I've dealt with Hobgoblin for online orders and they're great.