Hand drum

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A hand drum is any type of drum that is typically played with the bare hand rather than a stick, mallet, hammer, or other type of beater. The simplest type of hand drum is the frame drum, which consists of a shallow, cylindrical shell with a drumhead attached to one of the open ends.


The following descriptions refer to traditional versions of the drums. Modern synthetic versions are available for most if not all of the drums listed through various manufacturers.

Middle & Near East[edit]

  • A frame drum common in Middle Eastern music is the Tar (drum).
  • The Daf and the Dayereh are Iranian frame drums.
  • Ghaval is the Azerbaijani frame drum.
  • The Tonbak is the Persian goblet drum.
  • The Doumbek is a goblet shaped drum used in Arabic, Jewish, Assyrian, Persian, Balkan, Greek, Armenian, Azeri and Turkish music.
  • The Darbuka is less common than the Doumbek but has a similar shape. The two names are often used interchangeably, but the drumheads are different. Modern darbukas are made of metal and have a ring or rings surrounding the head. To play such a head it is important to avoid striking the metal. A doumbek head is also hard around the edges, but its rounded profile makes it easier to play, especially for novices
  • Mirwas
  • The Khishbeh (also spelled Khashba, Khashaba, or may be referred to an Zanboor Kasoura, or Kasoora)is from Iraq. It resemble the Papua New Guinea "Kundu"

West Africa[edit]

  • The most common African drum known to westerners is the Djembe, a large, single-headed drum with a goblet shape. Djembes are the most commonly used hand drum from West Africa. The first photo is a fully assembled and tuned master series Djembe. Usually the quality of the drum can be measured by multiple factors including wood used, quality of the skin, the rope, the way in which the skin is mounted, and the way the drum is carved with special attention to the inside of the chambers. Djembe evolution and usage over time has allowed for wide variances. The internal chamber design evolution and variations provide for many different ranges of sounds, and is more easily adaptable to various skin types than the Ashiko. Shown is the internal carving of a basic Djembe. These drums have a sharper sound due to less control on the surface allowing the sound to escape the chamber more quickly. The second internal carving picture is from a Master series djembe. The spiral nature of the internal carving helps guide sound waves to control when the sound waves converge in the upper chamber before exiting to the lower chamber. Likewise the lower chambers of mass-produced drums are usually flat or straight, and the better carved shells such as the master series usually have similar spiral carved patterns inside the base. The premise is that with uncontrolled surfaces the sound is more direct from the skin much like in an Ashiko but softer due to the chamber shape. "Softer" refers to a perception in the change of the sound, which can be relative. The Spiral carving purpose is to help control the convergence of the sound waves coming directly from the head, and the sound waves guided down the sides of the chamber moving towards the center. Theoretically the spiral carvings assist a more perfect convergence of the sound waves in the bottom of the chamber. Internal sound wave channeling in the upper chamber of the Djembe is thought to alter the sound in a way that makes it adaptable to a wider range of heads than the Ashiko.
  • The Ashiko is another African drum in the shape of a truncated cone. Similar to the Djembe it is rope strung. This drum is easily recognized as having straight sides (many actually have a slight curve but appear straight compared to most hand drums). The ashiko, contrary to popular belief, is traditionally mounted with wild game heads such as a gazelle. Most modern Ashikos are made with goat skin as a matter of convenience or legality, making their sound different from that of the traditional ashiko. A more traditional sounding ashiko can be created using hand picked goat skins that imitate the game skin or using deer skin (which requires more frequent tuning and maintenance). Modern Ashiko drums are quite popular but less common than other types of hand drums. This can most easily be attributed to the difficulty in building Ashiko drums correctly and obtaining heads (skins) that reproduce the sound of a gazelle sound which was the traditional skin used specifically with this design. The critical need for the correct type of skin, correct thickness, and correct tuning on the Ashiko compared to the Djembe is due to the Ashiko having a more direct sound wave exit, without as much sound wave control. The Wikipedia Ashiko page states that the modern slave construction of Ashiko drums is not traditional.
  • Bougarabou are African drums with cow skin heads. The base of the drum is shorter than a djembe and the goblet shape less pronounced. (This is the believed by some to be the African traditional predecessor of the Conga.)

Latin percussion[edit]

  • Congas and Bongos are essential to all kinds of Latin American music, especially that of the Caribbean and South American regions, used in both folklore (Punta, Santeria, Rumba, etc.) and popular music such as Merengue, Salsa, Son, Boleros, Bachata, Cumbia, latin jazz, and others.
  • The Tambora, a two-sided drum played with both a stick and a hand, is essential to the merengue dance of Dominican Republic.
  • Batá drums are essential to Santería ceremonies. They are considered sacred in those settings, but are also used secularly. They have an hourglass shape with a head at each end. The drum is played horizontally, each hand striking one head."

Far East and India[edit]

  • Tabla are central to Indian music.
  • The mridangam takes the main spot in Indian classical (Carnatic) music.
  • Ghatams and Kanjiras accompany the mridangam in carnatic music.
  • Răbāna or Raban, Gáta Béra, Yak Béra and Udákkiya are used in Sri Lankan music.
  • One drum head in Daŭla is played by hand, which is again used in Sri Lanka.
  • Dhōlki is used both in Sri Lanks and India, and even Pakistan.
  • Klong Yao is the Thai "long drum" which is shaped like an elongated or stretched goblet and rope tuned.
  • Kundu drums from Papua New Guinea

Native American[edit]

  • Native Americans also had a frame drum version (a hoop drum) which is usually played with a mallet but can be played by hand.

(Name not found) There is a traditional Native American drum that is tall and has vertical slits at the bottom of the drum allowing sound to escape from the sides. This drum, although extremely rare in the modern world, has shaped the way many play drums in modern America. A quick search of the web or attending diverse drum circles will reveal many people sitting on their drums which are laying horizontally on the ground. It is believed that this style of playing the drum (rather than sitting in a chair or holding it on your lap) originates here traditionally (as well as simply being convenient)this is how the drum was played.


  • The Irish Bodhrán is sometimes played with the bare hand.
  • The Celtic Goblet drum, also called a Chalice drum, is struck with the palms, finger tips, knuckles, fists, thumbs, and the lower part of the hand closest to the internal wrist joint in order to produce a variety of loud, soft, high, and low tones.
  • The Tambourine consists of a bone, wood, plastic, aluminum, or fiber glass structure that has been fitted with an animal skin or plastic sheet as a drumming surface in addition to being equipped with small percussive bells, generally on the outside of the instrument, which rattle upon impact. The tambourine can either be played the hand to produce a wide range of rhythms or a drumming stick or mallet of sorts. Also the clattering bells that significantly contribute to the tambourine's distinctive sound are not unlike the jingling contraptions attached to the collars of farm animals or shepherds' herds of pastoral animals. Lastly it should be noted that there are tambourines with no drumming surface at all in which the player merely strikes the instruments frame to activate the clattering components of the tambourine.
  • The Tabwrdd or Tabor, the direct ancestor of the snare drum, can generate a lengthy number of sounds when tapped by the hand or with a Tipper.
  • Hang is a steel hand drum designed in Switzerland with multiple sources copying the design. Although this instrument is very different from what we know as hand drums in general it is played like a hand drum and therefore qualifies under the hand drum category based on how it is played, rather than the sound it makes. The original creator of this instrument discourages the use of the term "Hang drum" because this instrument is extremely unique in usage and sound which is acknowledged but it is still marketed among drummers very differently from general percussion instruments. This was a new and unique instrument best categorized as drum by the way it is used. Various designs based on this have been created and are referred to as "Handpans".

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