Cave art from thousands of years ago shows musicians playing this type of drum. The bodhran is one of a family of frame-style drums whose branches can be found in cultures all over the world, from America to China, Russia and Spain. Theories abound about its origins. Some believe it originated in Africa and came to Ireland via Spain, while others insist that migrants brought it to Ireland from Central Asia. One theory is that it originated in Ireland and evolved from a work implement - a skin tray used to carry fresh turf from the bog for fuel - to its present musical status.
Sound & Workings
The bodhran is classified as a membranophone as it is covered with skin and as a percussion instrument since striking the head with a beater makes the sound. Other instruments in the same family are the orchestral timpani, bass drum, snare drum and tambourine. Bodhrans are frame drums, with a single head and shallow base.
Bodhrans come in a variety of sizes. The traditional size of the bodhran is 46 cm in diameter and 10 cm in depth. Professionals use this size. Smaller bodhrans are considered good for learners or as a second bodhran.
The bodhran is a fixed-head drum. There are no tuning keys around the edge to alter the tension of the skin. A fixed head can be tuned with heat and water. Spraying the back of the drum skin evenly with small amounts of water and rubbing it in by hand can loosen it. Conversely, holding it over a heat source can tighten the drum.
How it is made
The goatskin is first soaked in a solution of lime sulphide to soften the hide and removes the fat and hair. The beech for the frames is steamed and bent into a ring. The skin is stretched and glued onto this hoop, and then tacked with studs to prevent ripping. Goatskins are used because they are able to stretch, hold their tension for a very long time, and give a deep resonant tone.
In the past, the bodhran has featured in traditional ceremonies, Mummers plays and harvest festivals. Its musical popularity began in the late 1950s around the heyday of its close relative, the tambourine and it has been widely used since then. Artists such as Christy Moore and the band The Chieftans played the bodhran in their songs and performances. The bodran is featured in the Irish dance spectacular Riverdance and gives it its distinctive percussive sound - the bodhran has been described as 'the pulse of Irish music.' It is commonly played in dance bands with fiddles, guitars, mandolins, whistles, flutes and concertinas. As well as being popular musical instruments, bodhrans are bought by tourists visiting Ireland. Irish football supporters take bodhrans to international matches.
Large Drum Diameter:46cm