What Type of Musical Instrument is a Bodhrán?

The Bodhrán is a circular frame drum most commonly found in Irish traditional music. It gained significant popularity during the great folk music revival of the 1960s and has continued to evolve ever since.

Today a complex, modern playing style has emerged which fully explores the musical scope of this versatile Irish drum.

What’s the Meaning of the Word Bodhrán?

While the etymology of the word is often disputed, the word bodhrán originates from the Irish word ‘bodhar’ which means deaf. This word exists in similar forms in many Celtic languages, not just the Irish language.

Historically, bodhar has several different meanings and has been also been known to refer to a particular tone or sound (known in music as ‘timbre’).

How Do I Pronounce Bodhrán?

The most important thing to know is that the D is silent.

The first syllable is pronounced bow – just like wow. The second syllable is pronounced rawn like yawn.

Put it all together and you get bow-rawn. Easy!

The art of bodhrán making - how Irish drums are made

An Ancient Irish Drum: The History of the Bodhrán

What is a Bodhrán Made Of?

Traditionally a bodhran drum is made of a cured goat skin, stretched across a circular wooden frame. The skin is then tacked or glued into place.

In the early 20th century homemade frame drums were constructed using willow branches as frames, with leather drum heads and pennies as cymbals. (These no longer exist on the modern bodhrán…)

Today’s bodhran drums are more sophisticated musical instruments, carefully constructed using the finest tonewoods and featuring inbuilt tuning systems to control the quality of sound.

Learn more about the bodhrán construction process here: The Art of Bodhrán Making

Read The History of the Irish Bodhran Drum

The Role of The Bodhrán in Irish Music

Currently, the bodhrán holds the esteemed title as the rhythmic core of Irish traditional music, though its journey to this status is a tale of transformation and revival. The significant surge in the bodhrán’s prominence can be traced back to the influential work of Seán Ó Riada, a celebrated figure in Irish music. During the 1960s, Ó Riada, recognizing the potential of this often-misunderstood percussion instrument, introduced the bodhrán to the ensemble of Ceoltóirí Chualann. This move marked a pivotal chapter in the history of the bodhrán. Under Ó Riada’s visionary direction, the bodhrán transcended its humble beginnings. He ingeniously blended classical music elements with traditional Irish tunes, creating innovative and harmonious arrangements that captivated listeners. Ceoltóirí Chualann’s performances, both live and recorded, mesmerized audiences, showcasing the bodhrán’s newfound versatility and charm. This era heralded a shift for Irish folk music from its conventional informal settings into the grandeur of theatre and concert hall performances, elevating the bodhrán to a symbol of cultural sophistication and artistic excellence in the realm of Irish music.

Irish bodhran

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