The Bodhran

The heart beat of Irish music is revived in the 19th century

Irish music has been around since before St. Patrick, and it is evidenced by the countless tunes still played and recorded today. Whether it's the ancient hymn Slane (a.k.a. Be Thou My Vision) or gaelic tunes like Buchaill On Eirne, celtic music remains a popular music genre around the world. It's arguably the top selling "world" music in the market.

Celtic music involves popular acts like the Oysterband, Enter the Haggis, the Chieftains, Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West, or the Dubliners. All these bands at some time utilize the instrument named the "Bodhran."

The bodhran is a frame drum, simple in structure and intended to accentuate rhythm. It isn't in and of itself something that keeps rhythm apart from other instruments, instead its purpose is to bring to the forefront the beat. This varies in folk music from a reel to a jig to a ballad.

This hub is designed to familiarise those who have never heard of this instrument with its multi-faceted ability and cultural influence. Considering America is predominantly irish-descended, it's no wonder that this instrument is a popular hobby among those who either cannot afford other drums or haven't the time to sit down to a full drum set. It also allows each of us irish descendents to return to a place we romanticise about.

The following portions are going to demonstrate different styles, both modern and traditional, and popular musicians who play the Bodhran.

 

various tippers, some of which are designed for the bo style or traditional style.
various tippers, some of which are designed for the bo style or traditional style.

What is the Bodhran?

The Bodhran is a small frame drum that sits upright on your thigh as you play. You usually hit the drum with a stick called the 'tipper.' The tipper is a weighted stick on most occasions, although a completely even, straight stick can be used. Often it's 9" in length, though some tippers are less than 6" or more than 11" (on rare occasions). The frame itself can be as large at 26" and as small as 10" (I have yet to see smaller played by anyone other than children),

The standard drum size is between 16-18" and about 6" deep, although depth can easily be as much as 14". The wood is often rosewood or maple, occasionally softer woods are used but are not really sutiable for the bodhran's purpose.

The drum has been used as an instrument since ancient times, possibly hit with bones instead of a wooden beater, but the history remains true to the fact that it has always been made of sheep or goatskin. It was revived in the late 1800s for popular play and has since made impact on the folk music world of all genre. It's made appearances in middle eastern and african music in the last century as well, although the drum  is often hit with the player's hand instead of a tipper. 

Sean McCann

Kevin Conneff

Traditional Irish Bodhran

Kevin Connef: This drummer is a member of the Chieftains and is regarded as one of the premier bodhran players. His style is traditional, mastered, and toned to where he is not only a pleasant addition to the band, but also a standout on his own.

Sean McCann: Couple efficient playing with good vocal ability and innovative pop-style drumming, and you have one of the more believable acts in celtic music. Sean is someone I'd love to meet one day and play alongside of. His playing is classified as traditional although he leans towards modern drumming at times. His breakthrough was with Great Big Sea, though he finished his two decade tenure with them in January, 2014.

Steafan Hannigan: I believe this gent is more known for his tutorial videos than anything else, which is a shame. According to the limited resources available on the internet, he's largely a session musician that appears to be specializing in bagpipes of late, though his page lists a wide array of instrumentation.

Abe Doron

Jon Joe Kelly

Top end style

This is the modernized version. Many newer bodhran players are adopting this style. It ignores both ends of the tipper and instead relies solely on the one end. This is why it's called "top end" or also the "bo style."

While I admit its place and application are impressive, I abstain from its use almost entirely.

Musicians like Jon Joe Kelly or Abe Doron play this way, and while it's highly impressive, it's less versatile in a setting like a band. This style tends to use drums with thinner skin and thus allowing a "pop" noise at times. Lots of hand/skin manipulation as well, though the top end style does not solely focus on this aspect.

It's simply a matter of preference what style is chosen to be played with, but in the end it depends on what you're trying to accomplish that often determines your style. Many people find it difficult to play with both ends and often adopt the top end style to play along with other musicians [in most cases]. It would appear that this "general consensus" that was once held is largely being ignored these days.

I figured I was needed on here too!

The Bodhran in the 21st Century

As music moves forward and evolves with the human consciousness, we see the simplified instrument becoming more and more complex. Styles are being innovated, differing sizes, materials, and shapes are being experimented with and sold to premier musicians globally.

It has made its way into middle eastern music, rock music, pop music, and of course folk music. I've witnessed bass players learn the instrument in order to help master their slap-bass technique. Rock drummers, who for years have sat behind a wide array of drum kits, have begun to adopt this into their repertoire [along with a lot of other world percussion].

Commercialized music seems, for now, to be favoring the folkier antics. I intend to enjoy this little venture as long as it lasts, because surely it won't be long before we see another regurgitation of the eighties again, and with it, we'll lose the fascinating two decades that preceded it.

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Comments 25 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

Great Hub! I've always enjoyed listening to the versatility of the bodhran. Thank you for this interesting explanation of different styles of playing.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

WOW!! Learnt something new today. India also has some drums called tabla, mridangam, dhol (very similar to bodhran).. Nice info. Good hub.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 8 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

I could--and probably will--write more on the subject at a later date. It is very versatile and flexible, although the critics abound. Those who are critical typically are as un-musical as they come, therefore they cannot truly appreciate the art of hand drums at all.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 8 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

CW, I have a friend who plays the tabla. I also dabble on the djembe now and then, although I've far from mastered it. the dhol is good, I've been interested in trying it sometime.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

If you like Tabla then there is a very good table player called Zakir Hussain (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXxJGtnOrOE)


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

MightyMOM wants you to participate in this hub: http://hubpages.com/relationships/one-word?comment


RGraf profile image

RGraf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

Very informative! Learned a little more about my Irish heritage today.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 8 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

RGraf, thanks for your comment! Our irish history is a vital part of American history, especially since we built this nation and fought its wars. America wouldn't exist if the irish didn't immigrate here.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 8 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

I placed a video here at the end of me. It will help me get back links as well as credible people on google curious about my own musicianship. As you can see, I tend towards the more traditional, although that video isn't what I'd consider my finest hour. I like the song though.

Word is important to me. Get people listening, it's not something only I can do, everyone's help is needed!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

I never heard of the bodhran until today, but I must admit I like its beat.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 7 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

Sweet, glad to introduce yet another individual to the irish drum! It's beat is very versatile, I use in it for most every song in my band's repertoire except a few where I play the djembe. It's largely unknown and I pride myself in being one of few performing bands that has it as the primary percussion :)


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

That is really cool and it would be nice to see a news interview of a unique and talented band like yours.  Have any of the local news stations or channels ever interviewed your band?


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 7 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

LOL...not there yet. Looking to be there within the year, obviously. I'd love to be able to talk about our music, it's not stuff you hear from performing bands everyday! There are always irish jam sessions everywhere, but a band devoted to not only playing old folk songs but also writing new ones...well, the good ones are few and far between. In fact, I can only think of about 30-40 good bands that have done similar things and still are playing today, at least in N. America.

I just wrote a hub about the new album coming out, would love it if you stopped by and dragged a few peeps with ya!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

Are you making regular YouTube videos of your performances?  I have heard DJ Funktual said that got him noticed and now he might have his own show.  Maybe uploading more videos on youtube would help too.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 7 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

Working on it. Keep in mind my youtube channel has many videos of just me, then some of me and older bands then just one (right now) with the current band. The bigger deal for a band, no disrespect to DJ, is a manager. DJ's are totally different than a performing band, they have a totally different audience as well. As a band we need to write original material, arrange, perform, then record it. A manager would help us get into venues easily and therefore expand our viewing audience tremednously. Youtube is good, so is myspace, but if there isn't any shows in the first place then it's difficult to record our music live unless we just keep doing it from our practices, which cannot hurt too badly.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

I am not familiar with the Myspace or Youtube world for entertainers, but I just thought I would share that with you because I had read that yesterday on the wikipedia article about hubpages. It sounds like you are getting some good circulation with the Myspace and Youtube thing though :).


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 7 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

Yeah, it's something I'm still figuring out ho to utilise. My channel is actually quite popular around the globe, believe it or not. Now it's just finding someone who matters that can recognise the talent and skill needed to do this as a career!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

t.keeley,

Have you ever contacted someone on PBS regarding performing at local events? I see many uniques bands on PBS specials, so that might be a start maybe?


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 7 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

That's a good idea. I've also been recommended to the Chamber of Commerce for charity events. Both are great ideas, I'll definitely look into it.


midnightbliss profile image

midnightbliss 7 years ago from Hermosa Beach

This is an interesting lens and a great topic.


dan 6 years ago

playing double ended style might

in the longer term create wrist

problems, moreso than topend style.

but that's just my opinion. as a

musician i prefer being accompanied

by a top end or single end player.

over embellishment by double ended

players can get in the way. keep it

simple, keep it background, keep it

beat but use the skin hand for tonal

variations to help color the music.


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 6 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

Dan,

I [now] tend to agree with you. Ask me my opinion a year ago, I might argue a bit about it. Regardless, I am moving more and more to top end in general whilst keeping a similar tipper hold to the traditional way, so when an embellishment is called for, I can do it with ease, although I do so sparingly and with as much taste as possible.


Frumpy Jones 2 years ago

Do you gotten to know how large a bodhran Sean uses?


t.keeley profile image

t.keeley 2 years ago from Seattle, WA Author

Based on everything I've seen, he apparently prefers his 18" diameter.


Ryleigh 19 months ago

Either classic, traditional or modern version still the main fact that this small drum made of goatskin makes inspirational sound that makes you feel good and great. - http://www.thebodhranmaker.com/

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