What is the tongue drum?
The tongue drum is a percussion instrument in the idiophone family; this means that the material the instrument is made out of actually also produces the sound itself, without the need for strings, a membrane, or external resonator. Other names for it include tank drum, Hank drum or steel tongue drum.
Resembling a flying saucer, it boasts a unique, pleasant timbre that results from hitting the “tongues.” The number of tongues varies by instrument, with each producing a different note.
How to play the Alloy Copper Tongue Drum
The intuitive approach to playing the tongue drum sets it apart from many musical instruments. You don’t need any knowledge of rhythm, percussion, or music theory to play a beautiful tune. It’s impossible to play a bad note, and they all sound good together. You can either play it with your hands or use mallets.
History of the tongue drum
The tongue drum has ancient roots, but the instrument itself as we know it now is relatively new. Dennis Havlena, an American, developed it through some ingenious experiments involving a propane gas tank! The principle is quite simple: cut the bottom off two tanks, weld them together, and then cut out the tongues, whose width and length define the note.
Some continue to manufacture them this way, but nowadays, there are also industrial manufacturing processes.
Tongue drum scales and types
Tongue drums come in many scales, and more recently, the market offers multi-scale models that allow users to tune the tongue drum to different scales. It’s a great way to play multiple scales without having to buy multiple tongue drums. Moreover, there are even electro-acoustic models that connect to an amp or a sound card for an infinite number of effects (Looper, delay, etc.).