How to Make Indian Drums

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Like others around the world, Indian cultures used drums for music, ceremonies and communication. Modern musicians recognize the expertise needed to create these instruments and their value to Indian tribes. With some effort and attention to detail, drummers today can recreate Indian drums.

Things You'll Need

  • Rawhide, calfskin or goatskin
  • Drum frame
  • Leather piece or leather thongs
  • Awl
  • Large needle
  • Water-based powder paints, optional
  • Oak or other hard-wood sticks
  • Colorful cloth strips, about 3-inches wide
  • Narrow thong or twine
  • Leather strip, about 1-inch wide
  • Square box
  • Small wood pieces for cross struts or corner supports
  • Feathers, optional
  • Pottery jar or watertight container
  • Buckskin or chamois leather
  • Round, smooth pebbles, optional

Hoop Drum

  • Decide whether drum will be tom-tom, which is two-sided,or tombe, which is one-sided. Select material for frame of drum. Options include cheese boxes, nail kegs, chopping bowls, old tubs and tin cans.

  • Select rawhide or skin large enough to cover drum frame. Tom-tom covers should reach about one-third down side of drum. Tombe cover should reach over sides and about one-third to one-half of drum bottom.

  • Decide width of thongs desired. Cut leather piece round and round in a spiral in selected width to create one long piece of thong. Alternatively, purchase pre-cut thongs from leather supply or crafts store.

  • Soak covers for at least 24 hours. While still wet, poke holes around edges about 1 inch apart with awl. Stretch covers tightly over frame and lace into place with large needle. For tom-tom, thread thong through alternate holes on top and bottom cover. For tombe, thread thong through alternate holes on opposite sides of cover. Pull stitches evenly and ensure that covers remain smooth and snug against drum frame.

  • Let drum dry at least 30 hours in warm shade or room with moderate temperature. Do not beat drum while drying.

  • If desired, decorate cover and frame with paint.

  • Make Beaters. Cut oak sticks to desired length, 12 to 30 inches. Larger drums need larger beaters. Taper sticks from about ¾ inch to 3/16 inch at one end.

    Option 1. Wrap end of stick with several thicknesses of cloth; bind to stick with thong or twine.

    Option 2. Wrap leather strip a few times around heavy end of beater, then spiral strip down 2 or 3 inches on stick. Fasten with thin thong.

Square Drum

  • Remove top and bottom of box. Reinforce each corner with cross struts or wood pieces cut to fit corners.

  • Cut leather covers larger than for hoop drum, to cover half of drum sides. If desired, cut cover edges in scallop design. Prepare, stretch and lace leather covers as for hoop drum, pulling side edges as close together as possible. Take care when stretching skin over corners of drum, to prevent holes at those spots.

  • If desired, paint covers and decorate corners with feathers.

  • Prepare beaters as for hoop drum.

Water Drum

  • Add water to jar or container. Vary amounts for different drum sounds.

  • Prepare leather cover as for hoop drum. Stretch over jar; lace into place.

  • Unlike hoop or square drum, keep cover wet while playing water drum.

  • If desired, decorate as for hoop drum.

  • Prepare beaters as for hoop drum.

Tips & Warnings

  • Indian drums, especially large ones, provide better sound when hung. Use branched poles or specially built frames for this purpose.
  • For special effects, place handful of stones in drum before lacing cover in place.
  • Use care when cutting leather and using awl and needle. Keep first aid kit handy in case of accidents.

References

  • Living Like Indians; Allan A. MacFarlan; 1961
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