What is an Irish bodhran

Bodhrán - the Irish frame drum

If Irish folk is the soul of Ireland, the bodhrán is the heartbeat of the Emerald Isle. Because this Irish frame drum sets the rhythm, puts you in the mood for dancing and probably kept enemies at bay thousands of years ago. The bodhrán is reminiscent of both sound and appearance of all those drums that have always been found almost everywhere in the world - and on which the rhythm of life has been played for thousands of years. Even the Celts used simple percussion instruments - but whether they were called the bodhrán is uncertain.

The origin of the bodhrán

The word “bodhrán” means something like deaf or deaf person. In ancient Egypt there was also a drum which is translated as deaf. Perhaps the similarity of the name is due to the deafening noise of the instrument. Both instruments may be closely related. In any case, drums were initially used in war: with their rhythmic echo of thunder, enemies learned to be afraid even before the fight.

Later on, bodhráns became known through the so-called wrenboys. These disguised figures march through the streets in some parts of Ireland on Boxing Day and hold a mummery with a hell of a racket. It is not clear when the bodhrán was used as a musical instrument. The 17th century document Rosa Anglica mentions at least the first time the name bodhrán.

The Irish drum

That is the specialty of the bodhrán

Bodhráns are probably a simplified version of the tambourine - they just lack the bells. Some also claim that the name does not come from the word deaf, but is a modification of burin, i.e. tambourine. Frame drums are simple instruments made from simple materials. The Irish frame drum therefore originally consisted of raw materials that came from the area. The basic structure is a frame, on which a goatskin was usually stretched. But there were also used skins from cattle or even wolfhounds. The fur was traditionally buried in lime for at least six weeks to loosen the hair. After the skin was washed and dried, it gave the bodhrán its warm dark sound. Today's drums are made of a wide variety of materials - animal skins and sometimes plastic.

Many Irish frame drums have a cross on the back, which used to prevent the frame from deforming. It usually consisted of a simple piece of wood that was wet bent into shape. Today's drums are far more stable and no longer need this reinforcement.

The sound of the drum is determined by the tension of the head: in very dry surroundings the Irish drum often sounds a little too high. To tune them deeper, the fur is simply moistened. Modern drums usually have a tunable head and make handling easier for the player.

This is how the bodhrán is played

At first glance, the bodhrán looks like an ordinary drum. And to be honest, it is. There are hardly any differences between a frame drum, for example from Africa or Asia, and the Irish version. The special thing about it is the way it is played: The Bodhrán is played with a so-called Cipin or Tipper. This is a wooden mallet that has a thickening at both ends. Skilled players use these two sides incredibly skillfully and create breathtakingly fast rhythms - this is perfect for jigs and reels that go straight to the legs. Another special feature is that one hand presses the head from behind while playing and can thus also regulate the sound. There are no limits to the imagination and Irish drums therefore offer a surprising number of variations.

Tipper comes in many different designs. Drummers keen to experiment have tried out new ways of playing in the last few decades. The so-called top-end style is now enjoying great popularity. The tipsters for this style of play are thinner and lighter. So they allow a more varied style of play.


Incidentally, bodhráns only became known outside of southwest Ireland in the 1960s: Sean O Riada first used them for the Ceoltóirí Chualann ensemble and later for the Chieftains. From then on, the triumphant advance of the Irish drums could not be stopped - and meanwhile it is part of the standard repertoire of Irish folk.

Learning to play the bodhrán

How is a bodhrán traditionally played? Sit down, place the drum on your lap so that the skin is pointing forward at an angle. Hold the tipper in your playing hand like a ballpoint pen and place the other hand on the fur from behind. You can start now. Well, of course it's not that simple. For example, to see how to play an Irish frame drum, you can watch videos of some Irish folk bands. You can also find a large number of exercise videos on the Internet. Because in addition to a sense of rhythm and having fun with the music, as with everything, a lot of practice is required.

Okay, before you start your bodhrán career, I should point out one more thing: Although the bodhrán is a simple instrument, aspiring players should not underestimate it. An irresistible rhythm takes practice and tact. It is quite possible that not every enthusiastic Bhorán player takes this into account. Then actually there are tons of bad jokes about the bodhrán and their players. For example this one:

A bodhrán player could no longer bear the constant teasing of his bandmates and decided to form his own band. It can't be that difficult, he thought, and went to the nearest music store. "Give me the saxophone and that keyboard over there," he said to the salesman. "You are a bodhrán player, aren't you?" He asked. "Yes I am. But how do you know that? ”He replied dryly:“ You can have the fire extinguisher, but the heating stays here. ”

That's pretty mean. But anyone who has ever listened to a drummer playing his very own version completely enthusiastically and completely past the rhythm knows the origin of such jokes. Rhythm usually requires a little precision.