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How to Play a Steel Tongue Drum

Updated: Aug 31

Tongue drums can be played with either your hands or mallets or sticks. Both types of play have advantages and disadvantages. When using mallets or sticks to play the drum, the mallets easily rebound off the surface, producing a cleaner, deeper, and more resonant sound. The augmentation of sound is perhaps the most noticeable difference when playing with mallets. When you use mallets, your tongue drum will be significantly louder. Some people, on the other hand, like to use their hands to play the mouth drum. When someone plays a tongue drum with their hands, they use their fingers, palms, and heel to make musical rhythms. Playing with your hands can strengthen your bond with your drum and provide you with greater freedom.Playing a tongue drum with your hands is considered the more technical and challenging choice, but anyone can learn to play with their hands with practice and patience! When playing the drum by hand, some people feel that utilizing rubber finger picks, finger sleeves, or finger knobs helps. These add-ons boost the drum's volume while still allowing you to play with the agility, variety, and flexibility that comes with playing by hand. Picks can also protect your fingertips from injury and soreness if you play for long periods of time. You can rest your tongue drum in your lap while playing it. It is not necessary to utilize a stand, though some individuals prefer to do so or put their drum on a level surface. If you want to use a stand or play the drum on a table or the floor, make sure you get one recommended by the maker of your drum. When it comes to playing your drum on a flat surface, some manufacturers provide rubber feet with their drums, which make it simple to do so while maintaining the instrument's sound quality. Most people, however, prefer to play the drum on their laps since it allows them to be closer to the instrument and its vibrations. There is no "wrong" way to position the drum in your lap when playing it, but there is a posture that will make playing the drum simpler. You can advance up the scale in a circular order starting on the left hand side by placing the lowest note closest to your body. Many tongue drums come with numbered stickers that you can use to identify the notes of the drum if it will help you remember where they are. These stickers are also useful when playing music because they make it easier to follow the "sheet" music. If you're new to the tongue drum or other musical instrument, we've put together a list of suggestions and exercises to help you get the most out of your instrument.

Exercises for Beginners

You should acquaint yourself with your tongue drum and get comfortable holding and playing it when you first obtain it. You can do this by doing the following exercises:

  • Beginning with the lowest note and progressing to the highest note, play the entire scale. When you're done, you can go back down the scale.

  • Play all of the notes in a circle, beginning on any note you want.

  • Only play certain notes based on their location. Play only notes on the left or right side of the drum, for example. Alternatively, only play notes on the drum's top or bottom side.

  • Make chords and patterns. Try playing two notes at the same time or in a precise pattern. Experiment with various melodies and sound effects.

  • Find two notes that go well together. A chord is formed when two or more notes are played at the same time. Play the chord several times before switching to a new chord.

  • Experiment with the use of force. Play the drum lightly at first, and then a little harder. As you play, change the amount of force you use.

Experimentation is crucial at the beginning! Have some fun, make some noise, and experiment with your new instrument. You'll be able to follow along with drumming patterns and sheet music, and even compose your own tunes, if you practice a little each day.

Advanced Playing

You can start practicing more technical and advanced playing after you're more comfortable with your tongue drum. Here are some exercises to get you started:

  • Play with your hands and a mallet at the same time.

  • After you've played a note, try dampening it with your finger.

  • Try filling the drum with anything soft to damper or shorten all tones. You can play faster melodies when notes don't reverberate as long.

  • Play around with mallets. Switch between pure wooden sticks, rubber or felt mallets, and so on. If you can't find a rubber mallet, you can make your own by wrapping rubber bands around the end of a wooden mallet.

  • Use the internet to discover drumming patterns and sheet music to play along with.

  • Learn how to play specific songs by watching a YouTube tutorial.


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