The Bodhran

Bodhran by Seamus O’Kane

Pronounced “bow-ron”

This word comes from the Irish verb Bodhr – to deafen, the word bodhran means ‘the deafener’.

Instrument Family

It is a round drum of the frame drum family with a wooden frame and an animal skin head. The skin is usually goat but other skins can be used such as deer, calf and dog. Currently two of my bodhrans are made from dog (see additional info), one from deer and one from goat.

Instrument history

This type of drum is one of the most ancient of instruments, it is thought to have originated in the middle east, In Persian classical music a similar drum called the Daf or Duf has been used since very ancient times (well over 1000 years). The frame drum can be found in many ancient cultures from the Persians to the Native Americans and most places in between, it is widely found in the middle east and Africa, and was believed to have spiritual properties having been used extensively by shamen, medicine men and witch-doctors, in tribal cultures mirroring the use of the drum in spiritual practices from many places in the world. Although the date of its introduction to Ireland is unknown at present it is believed to have been used in the 17th century.

Playing technique

The frame drum is played in many ways, mostly by hand or with a single headed stick. However in Irish Music the use of the double headed stick is prevalent. This technique which involves striking the drum in an up and down fashion enables the player to provide a very fast highly ornamented, continuous rhythm which is particularly suitable to Irish traditional music and can if played well imitate the sound of Irish Dancers.

One of the benefits of playing the drum in this manner is that it allows the player to play rolls with one hand as both ends of the stick are used in the playing technique, so fairly complex rhythms can be provided. Another benefit is that the other hand can be used to mute the skin and change the tone and pitch of the drum allowing a wide variety of sounds to be produced.

Note on dog skin Drums

The first drum I ever got was made out of a greyhound called Prince. Before I picked the drum I played a huge range of sizes and type of drum but as soon as I played this one I knew it was the one, the sound was incredible, lots of soft warm bass tones, with some of the bending properties of the Indian Dugga (the large drum in the tabla set) as well as nice sharp highs with some nice pips & pops thrown in for good measure. The difficulty was that this drum was the makers favourite. It took over an hours “negotiations” to get him to sell me the drum, which I now use mainly for recording as the skin is so battered.

I am a dog lover and have had dogs of differing breeds for all of my life, I had a great German Shepherd Dog for 15 years, and when he died I got another drum made from my dog’s skin. This drum is very special to me and rarely goes “on the road” It has not been played sufficiently to find its true voice yet but I have very high hopes for it.


For more information on the bodhran visit Paul’s site bodojo

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