The Bodhrán (pronounced bod-ran) is an Irish frame drum. They can range anywhere from 10 to 26 inches in diameter, and are composed of the frame itself, with an animal skin (usually goat) stretched very tightly across one side. The other side is left open, where the player can place his or her hand, which will enable them to control the pitch of the drum. Occasionally, there may be a cross bar inside the drum, which will enable the player to hold the drum. Some of the modern drums will have a system in place, similar to modern drums that allow tightening or loosening of the skin, in order to “tune” the drum to the desired settings. This is usually done with a special key, or a screwdriver.
They usually come with a stick for playing called a Tipper, Beater (or in Irish, Cipin). These were traditionally made from knuckle bone, but these days, are made from wood turned on lathes, or plastic.
You will be hard pushed to find any traditional Irish music session without a Bodhrán player lending the distinctive percussion of the Bodhrán to proceedings. They’re a feature in pubs and bars across the Island of Ireland, both in trad sessions, and also, as decoration.
There are many theories as to the origins of the Bodhrán. One thing that is for sure is, many countries have their own versions of frame drums, from Africa to Greece, and even the Native American people.
One theory that seems the most likely to be true as regard the drums origin, is that the drum was originally used as a different tool or implement, and it’s musical use was stumbled upon by accident. Some feel that the Bodhrán was originally used as a sieve for winnowing corn. Others feel that the Bodhrán evolved from a tambourine.
What is certain, however, is that the word Bodhrán, meaning drum or dull sound in Irish, first appeared in the 17th Century. When it was described in the 18th Century, its meaning was defined as” a drum, tambourine, also a sieve used in winnowing corn”. This seems to corroborate the evidence that its first use was meant for something other than music.
The Bodhrán was somewhat overlooked for a lot of the 20th Century, only seeing a re-emergence in popularity with the rise of Irish Traditional Music in the 1960’s. Since, then, this distinctive instrument has been used as often as tin whistles, accordions and guitars in Traditional Irish Music sessions.
The Bodhrán has now found its way into many modern music mediums across the globe, generally in Celtic style music. It is very popular amongst musicians in Cornwall, in the South West of England, where the call it a “Crowdy Crawn”. You can also find Bodhráns being used accompanying Spanish Bagpipers, who are known as Gaita Gallega.
A Bodhrán would make an ideal gift, or as a souvenir of your visit to the Emerald Isle. They are really decorative and if you don’t wish to play them, they will look great on display in your home.