How To Play the Bodhran in 6 Steps

Learning to play the bodhran can be both fun and rewarding. In this article, I’ll guide you through each step with clear instructions and helpful videos to ensure you make the most of your practice sessions.

The bodhran is an ancient Celtic drum from Ireland. Though not widely recognized, it’s versatile and fits well in various music genres.

Key Takeaways

  • Body Position: Hold the bodhran upright on your thigh and knee for balanced playing.
  • Stick Handling: Grip the stick, also known as tiper, cipín, or beater, like a pencil to hit the drum at a 45-degree angle.
  • Basic Rhythms: Learn the foundational jigs and reels, essential for traditional Irish music.
  • Sound Variation: Experiment with different hand placements on the drum’s skin to alter the sound.
  • Rimshots: Use rimshots to add a clicking sound and accentuate your playing.

1. Bodhran Position

Though the bodhran resembles a snare drum, it’s played very differently. You need to hold it upright. Rest the drum sideways on your thigh and knee, holding it with one hand and playing with the other.

If you’re right-handed, place the drum on your left knee, holding it with your left hand, and play with your right. For left-handed individuals, do the opposite. Ensure the drum sits upright without tilting. Keep your knee level and your back straight to maintain good balance while playing.

Place your lower arm (from elbow to wrist) around the drum, hugging it. Rest your arm lightly on the wooden frame, using just enough force to hold it securely.

Place the palm of your hand on the drum’s skin to produce varied sounds. For a standard sound without ringing, lightly press the top of your fingers and the side of your thumb on the upper part of the skin.

2. Holding the Stick (Also Known as a Tiper/Cipín/Beater)

The stick for this drum, also known as a tiper, cipin, or beater, is unique. It has two beaters at the end. Hold it around the center or slightly below on any side.

Often, there are little bumps on the stick to show how far to move it to the side. Hold the stick like a pencil between your fingers, then play. Keep it at a 45-degree angle when hitting the drum.

3. Playing Rhythms (Jigs and Reels)

If you’re learning about Irish music, you’ll often hear about jigs and reels. A jig features an upbeat 6/8 rhythm, making it perfect for dance. Reels, on the other hand, have four main beats and a different rhythm. Both are used in traditional dances but are distinct from each other.

Playing reels is a core part of bodhran playing. There are four main reels: on the beat, off the beat, combination, and syncopated. Once you’re comfortable with these, explore more styles. The goal is to hit the drum up and down with your stick, using different techniques to accent certain beats and create unique music.

With jigs, you’ll quickly notice you’re playing a waltz rhythm. The basic jig involves a downward stroke, an upward stroke, and a semi-downward stroke. This creates the fundamental three-beat rhythm, which expands as you combine strokes in various ways. Check out this video to see more.

4. Changing the Sound of the Drum

Positioning your hand on the back of the drum can really change the sound. Practice different placements to see what sounds you get.

Moving your hand changes the sound, adding more ring or bass to your beat based on its position.

5. Rimshots

Rimshots are commonly used to highlight playing on any drum. With the bodhran, they’re frequently utilized since playing only the drum doesn’t offer much sound variation.

For a clean clicking sound, aim to hit the rim of the drum with your stick. Rimshots enhance standard rhythms, offering a fresh sound from the same rhythm you already know.

6. Using Your Hands

Like any drum, you can play it with your hands instead of a stick. Use the same up-and-down hand motion as with a stick, keeping your wrist loose, similar to playing the guitar.

Hit the drum’s skin with the knuckles on the outside of your fingers, similar to using a stick. Practice first with one finger, then gradually add more for diverse sounds. Though muffled, the sound retains a great vibe.

Is It Easy To Learn the Bodhran?

Playing the bodhran is easy at a basic level. To play with real skill, though, you need to practice regularly. Like with any instrument, dedication is key.

This practice helps you familiarize yourself with the instrument and build muscle memory when holding the bodhran.

More advanced rhythms like jigs and reels require practice and an understanding of how the drum works.

How Do You Pronounce “Bodhran”?

“Bodhran” is an old Gaelic name, so it’s pronounced differently from how it’s written. The closest pronunciation is like bow-rawn (baʊrɑːn).

What Is a Bodhran Stick Called?

As I’ve said before, the stick for the bodhran drum is also called a tiper, cipín, or beater. You can try other sticks to experiment or even play it with your hand.

What Does the Word “Bodhran” Mean?

Bodhran is an old Irish word for “drum” or “tambourine.” Today, it refers specifically to this particular instrument and not to the entire range of similar instruments.

Image Credits:

Featured Image by: “bodhran” by theilr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Image under ‘Bodhran Position’ heading by: “Jeremy” by Poitin Jimmie is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Tiper/Cipín/Beater Image by: “File:203-0136 bodhran tipper-beater-cipin-stick hinnerk-ruemenapf-v01-i01-h2000.jpg” by Hinnerk R Hinnerk Rümenapf is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Rimshots Image by: “File:203-0046-bodhran top-end hinnerk-ruemenapf-v01-i01-h3000.jpg” by Hinnerk R Hinnerk Rümenapf is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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