Care of your Bodhran

Now you have purchased your Paul McAuley Bodhrán its time to start and master the art of playing it.  Like most things in Ireland, the origins of the Bodhrán have been lost in the mists of time.  The drum was invented many years ago in Ireland and metamorphosis from a work implement to its present state of art.  It arrived in Ireland  from abroad, between one and two thousand years ago.   The name itself when translated means “that which deafens”.  It is derived from an Irish word “bodhar” which can be translated as “dull sounding” and it is natural to assume that the name was given directly to the instrument because of the sound that comes from it.   Pronouncing the name of the instrument can be quite difficult for people not familiar with the Irish language.  The two main ways of pronouncing it are: “BOUGH-RAWN” and (B) “BO-RAWN”.  To get round this problem some people simply call the instrument a drum, others refer to it incorrectly as a tambourine.  Whatever you call it, the bodhrán has a place in Irish music today which is without doubt a great one.




There are three basic drums to be found in the world: tubular, kettle and frame.  Each race and culture developed the drum according to its needs.  The drum was handed down or across from race to race, culture to culture.  The Bodhrán is made from a circle of wood (e.g ash or birch) which is easily bent and upon which is stretched a specially treated skin from the goat or sometimes deer.  At first glace, it may remind one of a skin tray or a sieve, such as is used on a building site to sift sand or gravel.  So we have a connection between
the work instrument and the musical instrument.  “What is the secret of the Bodhrán?” 
“Was it a drum first which became a useful work instrument, or was it the other way round?”

The important part of the drum is the skin.  After the skilled process of cleaning and
treating, it is stretched across the frame and affixed by tacks. 

It may have a cross-piece or single-bar inserted, depending on if its a fixed skin or a tuneable bodhran and the bar will serve the dual purpose of easy handling and an aid to tension.   The single-bars fitted to any tuneable can be made to be removed, if required by the individual player.  When ordering a tuneable please specify if you want a single-bar or not.  The other essential piece of equipment is the stick or beater.  These come in all sized and are made from a variety of woods and differ greatly in weight.  It is essential the player find a beater to suit, as there is nothing worse than a beater that is too long, too short, too heavy or too light.


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My family and I from Canada were camping through Ireland about 8 summers ago. We came to your studio/house to buy a Bodhran. Your grandsons were there visiting, and my children still remember your wife’s comments about how much work they were and it was about time for them to go home. Anyway, after much debate-and a little talk about the beautiful lures you were also making-and two visits, we bought my a Bodhran and two tippers you had made. I was a beginner, but my wife carried the Bodhran on her lap in our small rental car the rest of the trip, and I practiced in the campgrounds, and took it to pubs through Ireland to play along. Today, I still enjoy your wonderful instrument, and use it regularly during choir concerts and Ceilidhs. Thank you for your craftsmanship and kindness. You signed the inside of the drum on the skin upon my request, but it has pretty much disappeared now. Tha t was a longer than expected note,but I. Wanted you to know your work is being used, and not just sitting in a cupboard here in Canada. I am a pianist, and take the Bodhran with me to play in the hotel after a days work when I’m travelling. Thank you. Hope you’re well. Mitchell Cox, musician ARCT, BMus c.1984 Music Director, Bridge Street United Church c.2017 Director, Vocalese Choir c.2011 Choral Director, Northumberland Orchestra and Choir c.2017 Examiner, Royal Conservatory of Music c.2004