Tabor (instrument)

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Pipe and tabor player, c. 1325–1335
Classification Unpitched percussion instrument
Related instruments

Tabor or tabret (Welsh: Tabwrdd) refers to a portable snare drum typically played with one hand. The word "tabor" is simply an English variant of a Latin-derived word meaning "drum"—cf. French: tambour, Italian: tamburo[1] It has been used in the military as a marching instrument, and has been used as accompaniment in parades and processions.

Valencian tabor player

A tabor has a cylindrical wood shell, two skin heads tightened by rope tension, a leather strap, and an adjustable gut snare. Each tabor has a pitch range of about an octave: the larger the tabor, the lower the pitch. It is played by just one stick, which usually strikes the snare head. The tabor is suspended by a strap from the forearm, somewhere between the elbow and wrist. When played, the shell is virtually parallel with the ground.[1]

The tabor is most widely known as accompaniment for the pipe and other small flutes, and most famously as the percussive element in the "pipe and tabor" one-man band configuration.[1] The tabor is beaten on the snare side.

In Spain, a deep drum is used for a tabor by pipe and taborers, and in England a shallow tom tom is sometimes used, although medieval icons of pipe and tabor usually display a large shallow tabor similar in shape to a bodhrán.

Georges Bizet scored for the tabor drum in his L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2, and Aaron Copland calls for it in his Appalachian Spring and El Salón México.


One-handed roll performed on a Tabor

The tabor is classified as a membranophone and dates back to the Medieval period in Europe.[2] Hand-written documents and engravings are some of the earliest recordings of this instrument.[2][3] The size of these early tabors ranged approximately 11-12 inches in diameter and 4-10 inches in width/depth.[2][3] These 13th century tabors were thus larger across their diameter, but the tabor continued to evolve with time and eventually some were almost even in diameter and width.[3] The 16th century design of the tabor changed to the opposite proportions from the earlier models with the width being greater.[3]

Tabors were constructed of wood for the body of the drum with the stretched membrane made out of some type of skin.[2] It was primarily used for the outdoors.[2] The tabor is a precursor to the side drum.[4]

The common way of playing the tabor together with the pipe produced the effect of a single person band.[5][6] It was often played for dancing, and was sometimes played as a small ensemble with the bagpipes.[2][4] Since the tabor was used to accompany dancing, regular rhythmic beats were common for this instrument.[3] The tabor was used to accompany Morris style folk dancing.[3]

Initial documents show that a type of horn was played with the tabor, which then later lead into the pipe and tabor duo.[6] This combination flourished in musical performances between the 13th-16th century and was connected with nobility.[6] The tabor together with the pipe had the ability to make complicated musical timing meters.[3] The tabor was also played solo.[6] By the 15th century there were bigger models made.[2] Players used two sticks instead of the original single stick to hit on the membrane.[2] This was predominantly used in military-life.[2][6] Tabor use decreased by the mid-17th century.[2] The tabor did continue to evolve throughout the 19th and into the 20th century.[3] The tabor style is still used as the tambourin de Provence.[5][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Harms Historical Percussion's Tabor page.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Tabor". Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection. Retrieved 2018-11-01.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Montagu, Jeremy (May 2010). "The Tabor, its Origin and Use". The Galpin Society Journal. 63: 209–216. JSTOR 20753663.
  4. ^ a b Max., Wade-Matthews (2002). The Encyclopedia of Music: Instruments Of The Orchestra And The Great Composers. Thompson, Wendy, 1952-, Wade-Matthews, Max., Thompson, Wendy, 1952-. London [England]: Hermes House. pp. 60, 192–193. ISBN 978-1843094364. OCLC 50169470.
  5. ^ a b Musical Instruments of the World : an illustrated encyclopedia. New York: Facts on File. 1976. pp. 158, 160, 301. ISBN 978-0871963208. OCLC 7513990.
  6. ^ a b c d e Soler, Teresa; Mitjans, Rafel (May 2010). "'Horn' and Tabor". The Galpin Society Journal. 63: 217–224, 234–235. JSTOR 20753664.

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