The Frame Drum – A Soothing Sound From The Past

By Editor
By July 4, 2022 October 11th, 2022 Blogs

From ancient Egyptian ceremonies to today’s live shows and performances, one instrument that hasn’t lost its relevance and uniqueness is the Frame Drum. Though simple and made from common materials, this drum gives off great sounds that make you want to hit the dance floor. Frame drums can work well as standalone instruments and as percussion instruments. Many musicians use it to spice up their songs and live performances.

In ancient times, this drum was used during healing ceremonies, rites of passage, and other community gatherings, mainly due to its unique, somewhat hypnotizing sound. Today, there are multiple kinds of frame drums that suit different occasions, as well as different sizes to match different hands (men, women, and children).

What Are Frame Drums Exactly?

Frame drums are drums that have a drumhead width much larger than its depth/length. They are mostly round and have a wooden frame called the shell. The shell of frame drums can be made from rosewood, oak, plywood, or ash.

Types Of Frame Drums

The different frame drums found today are mostly native to the different geographical regions. Different countries have their preferred design/pattern of the frame drum and unique names for it. Here are some of the popular ones:

Country/Region Name Of Frame Drum
Europe, USA Tambourine
England Riddle Drum
Brazil Tamborim, Pandeiro
Egypt Mazhar
Russia Buben
India Duff, Kanjira
Azerbaijan Daire
The Caribbean, Sierra Leone Gumbe
Spain Pandero
Morocco Tar
Israel Toph
Nigeria Sakara Drum


What’s The Difference Between Frame Drums And Regular Percussion Drums?

  1. The body build: Frame drums are very short in length but wide in diameter. On the other hand, regular percussion drums may have equal or a greater length compared to the drum’s diameter.
  2. The playing style: Regular percussion drumsets are usually played with sticks, but frame drums aren’t. Rather, they’re mostly played with bare hands. Only a few types of frame drums are played with sticks, like the percussion frame drum and the gourd drum. Also, frame drums are rarely played as a set; rather, each drum (whether small or large) is beaten by a single person.
  3. The sound: However you play it, whether with hands or sticks, a frame drum always sounds much sweeter and more harmonious than a regular drum. It’s not clear whether the short body length is responsible for this, but this is mostly the case, irrespective of what material the head of the drum is made of. You can make enjoyable, danceable music with just a frame drum and a vocalist. This is why these drums were very popular in ancient times, when there was no piano, guitar, or music boxes.

Today, there are frame drums that are pre-tuned and tunable. There are also special kinds of frame drums called paddle drums that can produce melodies and rhythm. These paddle drums are excellent for educational and entertainment purposes, especially when kids are involved.

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How Far Back Do Frame Drums Go?

The exact origin of the frame drum is unknown. However, variants of the frame drum like the tambourine date back to as early as 1700 BC, appearing in certain historical writings of that era. Studies also show that the tambourine was used in ancient Egypt, and the Hebrews who were enslaved at the time named it “toph.”

Although the tambourine is attributed to Europe, it was passed on to them by musicians from foreign lands. The first people who used frame drums like the tambourine were the ancient musicians of Greece, India, and West Africa.

What’s The Difference Between A Frame Drum And A Tambourine?

You’ll rarely hear people mention “frame drum,” but I bet you’ve heard “tambourine” more than a few times. A tambourine is actually a type of frame drum. The only difference is that tambourines have metal jingles at the sides, so you can play the drum or shake the jingles (or do both). Also, frame drums come in different sizes, both large and small, but tambourines are usually made in small-to-medium sizes that can be held by hand.

How To Play Frame Drums

The best way to play frame drums is with your hands. And when it comes to beats, there are no rules; freestyle, play however you want to get the vibe from it. Some frame drums come with special sticks for playing, but there are certain downsides to using sticks over your hands. For one, you won’t be able to roll.

Rolling With A Frame Drum

Rolling is one of the sweetest things a frame drum player can do. If you’re familiar with drum rolls, it’s pretty much the same here, only that you use your fingers to make the rolling sound. It’s also called “finger rolls.”

To roll with a frame drum, you have to loosen your grip and put your thumb at the shell of the frame drum, with your 4 fingers spread across the drumhead. Then, rapidly hit the drumhead with your fingers in a vibratory motion. The resulting sound is a frame drum roll or finger roll.

What Kinds Of Music Can Frame Drums Be Used For?

Frame drums can be used for almost any form of music. However, it is mostly featured in:

  • Folk music
  • Pop
  • Country music
  • Rock
  • Gospel music
  • Samba
  • Classical music

Modern Day Music That Features Frame Drums

A good example of a modern-day song that explicitly features a frame drum is Marla Leigh’s “Rhythms of Tof Miriam.” Others include “Shaman’s Dream” by SplitBrain, and “Oasis” by Nathan Einhorn.

Though these songs featured frame drums as the main instrument, thousands of songs today use frame drums as supporting instruments or as part of the mix.

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