The bodhrán is an ancient Irish frame drum and one of the oldest traditional Irish musical instruments in existence. This iconic musical instrument is enshrined in Irish music, culture and heritage.
Today it’s one of the most popular drums not just in Ireland, but all over the world. So if you too want to learn to play this popular Irish drum, there are a few things you need to know before you begin. First things first…
How Do You Pronounce Bodhrán?
If you want to play authentic traditional Irish music it’s vitally important to know the name of your drum first. Bodhrán is an Irish word, with two syllables. The first is pronounced ‘bow‘ like ‘wow‘ and the second syllable is pronounced ‘rawn‘ like ‘yawn‘.
This pronunciation might not make much sense to those who aren’t from Ireland, but in the Irish language, a H after a consonant (in this case the letter D) softens the sound. You’ll also notice the letter A in the word bodhrán has an accent, or what we call a ‘fada’ in Irish. The fada indicates that the A sound is elongated, turning it into an ‘aw‘.
Put it all together and you get ‘bow-rawn‘. Please, never call it a ‘bod – ran’. If you forget how to pronounce its name you can simply call it an Irish drum.
What Does Bodhrán Mean in Irish?
Bodhrán originates from the word ‘bodhar’ which means deaf. This word exists in similar forms in many Celtic languages. Bodhar also has different meanings and historically has also been used to refer to a particular timbre, tone or sound.
The etymology of the word is often disputed however, with many believing the frame drum may have originated in the farming sector as a harrowing tool. You can learn more about the bodhrán, its origin, meaning and history here.
Is The Bodhrán Easy to Learn?
Overall, yes, the bodhrán is a relatively easy instrument to pick up.
Frame drums are found in many cultures all over the world and played using a number of techniques. What distinguishes the Irish Bodhrán however is its unique playing style.
While the bodhran can be played by hand, today it is predominantly played using a small wooden stick called a cipín, tipper, or beater which is used to strike the goatskin head.
And although the bodhran can be learned easily, certain stick manoeuvres and hand movements required to play in a modern playing style can be tricky. They are extremely valuable for learning to play and worth the work to master them.
How to Play the Bodhran
If you’re a beginner then follow these steps below to get started…
Step 1 – How to Hold a Bodhrán
Place the bodhran upright on your left leg (if you’re right handed) with the bodhran skin or drum head facing to the right.
Keeping the wooden rim of the bodhran drum tucked in tight against your left side, gently place the fingertips and heel of your left palm inside the drum, against the skin.
Step 2 – How to Hold the Tipper
While holding the bodhran as outlined above, take the bodhran tipper or beater in your right hand (again, if right handed).
Grip the stick about a third of the way down (from the top), as you would a pen or pencil (but higher up).
Step 3 – Playing the Bodhran
Holding the stick in front of you, turn the ‘writing tip’ towards your stomach.
Raise the stick parallel to the bodhran skin and strike downward against the goatskin head.
NB: The movement should come from your wrist, rather than moving your whole arm. Learn more.
Repeat this action
After these three basic steps there are many things that you can do to master the instrument.
First, find yourself a good teacher, or a series of online lessons, so that you can learn the correct playing techniques right from the start.
Listen to Music
Listen to as many bodhran players as you can to learn from their individual playing styles. Familiarise yourself with traditional music, especially its forms and melodies. Make sure to listen to all the greats, especially melody players of other instruments!
Learn How Your Instrument Works
Learn what a tuning system is and how it operates. Discover which tippers and beaters are best for your needs or which percussion accessories could enhance your playing.
Do a little research and decide which style of bodhran suits you best – do you need crossbar or a deep rim cutout for example? Most importantly you need to learn how to care for your bodhrán.
All this and more can be found in the McNeela Irish Bodhrán Blog.
With a quality instrument in hand you’ll be a bodhran pro in no time. To make sure you’re playing the best musical instrument visit the home of The Bodhrán Maker himself, Paraic McNeela and check out the full range of beginner bodhrans, tunable bodhrans and more, with a range of diameter and rim options.
McNeela Instruments won’t be beaten on quality or price for our bodhráns. Visit the McNeela Bodhrán Store