I’m creating content for my new Drumming for Birth course at the moment. This week, one one of the topics I shared was how to choose a drum.
This was one of these lightbulb moments where I hadn’t realised how much I know about the subject until I started putting pen to paper. We all do this, right, not being aware of the amazing expert knowledge we have, until we start sharing it to people who know very little about it? I have ADHD, and one of ADHD’s superpower is the ability to hyper focus obsessively about something. So of course it is logical that my knowledge about drums and how to choose one, is both deep and wide.
I own 17 drums, 3 of which I made myself with 3 different people. I’m going to tell you about the categories, the pros and cons of each, and how much drums cost to buy, including some real unexpected bargains, and what to avoid.
Frame style drums suitable for shamanic drumming, come into 2 main categories: the ones that are made of animal skin (known as hide), and ones that are made of synthetic skin (plastic material, or fabric).
I have 3 synthetic drums: A 16 inches Remo Buffalo drum (A misnommer as the drum is made of a synthetic skin), a tiny (8 inches) hand held synthetic Remo which I mostly use for display, as the sound is too tinny, and a 20 inches drum made of yurt fabric from French maker Philippe Jalbert.
Remo Buffalo Drum/synthetic drums
- Good, reliable quality sound
- Sounds remains the same regardless of weather/water/temperature
- If you play outdoors you’ll be grateful to have a synthetic drum. You can play it in all weathers, even play it in the pouring rain
- Cheaper than the average skin drum, a Remo costs about £110 for a 16 inches drum
- Remo drums are made in a factory. Although all drums have their own spirit, and you can connect to the spirit of a drum even made of synthetic material, I personally feel that they have less “spirit” than hand made skin drums.
Thomann has sound samples of Remo drums (and others) on their website. The bigger the drum the deeper the sound.
The tunable yurt fabric drum I have was made by Philippe Jalbert in France. I’m not in love with it yet but I think I need to play with it more. My brother Olivier, a professional musician owns a different make which is also made of yurt fabric and tunable, and I find the sound of his drum to be deeper and better quality than mine, You can see him playing it here. There are about 3 or 4 manufacturers of such drums in France.
Drums made from animal hide
I own 15 skin drums, 3 of which I made myself in drum birthing workshops, and the others I bought.
Skin drums advantages
- Unique, beautiful, individual drums
- Handmade by cottage industry businesses
- They have a unique spirit and energy
- You can make your own to your own preference and style (including adding symbols, crystals, painting them etc)
Skin drums disadvantages
- The quality can vary a lot & there are fakes (more on that below)
- They are sensitive to weather & temperature. In winter you need a fire to warm them up if outdoors
- They can get damaged by heat or moisture (you cannot play them in heavy rain)
- Because they are handmade, they tend to be pricey (from £150 to £300 or more)
I have skin drums from the following makers, and I trust and recommend their work:
- Melonie Syrett at The Drum woman (UK)
- Carolyn Hillyer , UK (though I’m not sure she’s making any to order at the moment)
- Jonathan Weekes of Heron Drums, UK
- Custom painted drum from Lusio Art, UK
- Veleslav Voron at Shaman drums (Ukraine)
- Juha Jarvinen at Yxpila Art (Finland)
- Malbar drum (traditional drum from Reunion Island) bought from Djoliba (France)
One affordable exception to the skin drum option: The Irish Bodhran. It typically comes with a wooden stick called a tipper, and you’ll need a soft beater instead but these are very easy to make (with a foraged stick and a stuffed sock or piece of felt attached to the stick with a string or elastic-I have made several beaters).
My first drum was a Bodhran, bought by my parents in Ireland from the oldest bodhran maker in Ireland, Malachy Kearns, and gifted to me. Malachy Kearns bodhrans start at 130 euros, however I have found such bodhrans available second hand on Ebay or Facebook marketplace for as little as £20 to 40. Another well known bodhran brand is Waltons.
A few other people I have either seen drums made by (at circles etc) or heard of being reputable drum makers (some run drum birthing workshops and also sell kits to make your own drum)
General UK instruments shops that sell drums and other musical instruments
A list of makers recommended by knowledgeable friends (but I haven’t seen any of these drums myself)
- Hollowbone sacred drum (UK)
- Lyn Gosley (UK)
- Wendy Ravenowl (UK)
- Deborah Ann Grant (UK)
- Louise Karuna (UK)
- Hollie Hope (USA Utah)
- Melonie Cannon (USA Utah)
- Cedar mountain drums (USA)
- Golden Paw (USA)
- Blacksage woodwork (Canada)
- Suka Waka (netherlands)
- Open your drum (Ukraine)
- Shaman drum Finland (Finland)
Some drum makers also offer the option of making your own drum with them.
What to avoid when buying a drum
Sadly there are a lot of fake drums. A lot of what’s sold on Facebook ads, Ebay or Amazon is often fakes made in China, where someone has copied the artist’s pictures, but what you get is a plastic drum the size of my hand with a picture glued on. The drums made by Velenslav Voron for example, are so distinctive in style that I instantly recognised one of his designs on a Facebook ad selling for £30 on Facebook. I knew something wasn’t right. I contacted him and he told me about the stealing and the cheap copies, and not being able to do anything about it. A friend bought such a drum and she sent me pictures of a crappy plastic drum not even good for a child, with the picture and surrounding tape peeling off. Currently you can buy drums that look like the Shaman Drums from Ukraine for under £10 on Aliexpress. Ask yourself: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Get recommendations, and if possible, get to see and try before you buy.
I hope this is helpful, and if you end up buying a drum with the help of this post I’d love it if you posted a picture of your drum in the comments