One of the oldest instruments in the world, the frame drum comes in various shapes and sizes these days. Just about every region of every country seems to be home to its own unique frame drum. Some are equipped with loads of jingles, while other types only have a few jingles or none at all. One thing that all frames have in common however, is a drumhead. Let’s take a quick trip around the world and look at a number of well-known frame drums.

Typical Frame Drum Features

Almost all frame drums come with a circular frame topped with a drumhead, which can be either a traditional goatskin or a more modern synthetic drumhead. With every frame drum, the diameter of the drumhead is always bigger than the depth of the frame and can range from 6 to 30+ inches. In some cases, the drumhead can be tuned. In most cases, the drumhead is fixed to the frame and can only be ‘tuned’ by warming up, cooling down, drying or moisturising the skin. The geographical origin and corresponding culture largely determine how the various frame drums that exist today are played.


Certain frame drums are furnished with jingles, the tambourine being the most well-known example. The jingles can be made of various materials, including brass, copper, bronze, chromed steel, aluminium and stainless steel, each of which shapes a different sound. Brass jingles, for instance, pack a dry sound with short sustain, while stainless steel jingles sound brighter and higher and have a longer sustain. The shape of the jingles matters too: flat jingles generally sound brighter and more sustain-rich than cupped jingles.

The Tambourine (Europe and Middle East)

The ever-popular tambourine finds its origin in southeast Europe, the Middle East and India. While traditionally played at religious events, tambourines have also been used by classical European composers and even found their way to the US where they play a big role in gospel music. That said, native Americans came up with their own frame drum long before the ‘western’ tambourine made it to North America. Tambourines, and headless tambourines in particular, are also widely used in styles like pop, rock, blues and latin and, depending on the diameter, most models are outfitted with six to eight pairs of flat jingles. The various playing techniques range from the more subtle, classic European way to the more forceful way that gospel musicians in New Orleans play their tambourines, which almost eliminates the need for a drum kit since the powerful slaps essentially mimic the sound of a snare drum and the dynamics of a cajon.

The Tamborim (North Africa, Portugal and Brazil)

Easily mixed up with the tambourine due to its similar name, the tamborim usually features a 6-inch diameter and a synthetic drumhead, with a frame made from either metal, plastic or wood. Tamborims are tuned to a high pitch and sound bright and fierce despite the fact that they don’t come equipped with any jingles. Originating from North Africa and Portugal, the tamborim is a mainstay in Brazilian music such as capoeira, samba and bossa nova — just like the pandeiro which we’ll look at in a second. It’s played using a short drumstick that sometimes comes with multi-sided design and can be used to strike the rim as well as the drumhead. The pitch can be changed by pushing against the underside of the drumhead with the index finger.

The Pandeiro (Portugal and Brazil)

The pandeiro hails from Portugal and was first taken to Brazil by Portuguese colonists way back when. Commonly used for samba and capoeira music, the pandeiro typically comes with fewer jingles than a tambourine but does feature a drumhead that can be tuned. The jingles are also hollow which lends them a fiercer, dryer sound that’s perfect for fast rhythmic patterns. As well as shaken, pandeiros are played with the thumb, fingertips and palm of the hand. Fun fact: the word ‘pandeiro’ originally referred to a square frame drum from North Africa, the rarely seen adufe: a frame drum fitted with both a batter head and a resonant head.

The Bodhrán (Ireland and Scotland)

The bodhrán awasn’t actually that common until half-way through the 20th century. While considered a Celtic instrument, the bodhrán shares a lot of similarities with the Middle-Eastern daf and various Native American frame drums. It’s also known as the poor man’s tambourine since Irish and Scottish farmers would use materials they found on their land to build their own bodhráns. In fact, early bodhráns were equipped with pennies instead of jingles to make them look more like tambourines. Later, jingles of any kind were left out altogether, resulting in the earthy sound the bodhrán is known for today. Played using a double-sided stick called a tipper, Bodhráns can be roughly divided into two types: the traditional bodhrán and the more modern Irish bodhrán. The traditional version features cross-shaped bracing that makes it easier to dampen the drumhead, while the Irish version doesn’t have any bracing and, instead, usually comes with a damping ring on the outside, which gives it a duller sound packed with more low frequencies.

The Kanjira (India)

The kanjira comes from the south of India and is one of the oldest frame drums we know. It’s been used in folk and traditional Indian music for centuries, and varies from seven to nine inches in diameter and two to four inches in depth. The frame comes with one set of jingles, usually three or four, and the drumhead is usually made from lizard skin, giving kanjiras a generally bright, clear and high-pitched sound that can be varied by moisturising the drumhead for extra bass. Here, the trick is to add just the right amount of water. Add too much and the sound turns dull. Traditional kanjiras can’t be tuned and are very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Not only that, they’re quite hard to master since the playing technique only involves the palm of the hand and the fingers, but also because Indian music typically revolves around rather complex rhythmic patterns. Don’t mind a challenge? Grab a kanjira!

The Tar (North Africa and Middle East)

An ancient Arabic frame drum, the tar dates back thousands of years. It’s often played with both hands where the fingertips do most of the work to pull out open, sustain-rich sound. The tar features a large drumhead that, as tempting as it is to strike right in the centre, is mainly struck two to five centimetres from the rim, allowing for rich harmonics and optimum resonance. A tar is usually played sitting down so it can rest on one leg, and is surprisingly versatile in terms of sound since the subtle, high-pitched sounds you get from striking near the rim can be alternated with the low-and-darker sounds you get a little further from the rim.

Plenera Drums

The plenera, also known as pandereta in Puerto Rico which is where it’s from, usually comes as part of a set of three frame drums, each of which has a different size and name. The smallest, the primo (or requinto) is used for playing leads and solos, while the bigger tercero (or bajo) generally takes care of the beat. Falling in between, the segundo (or seguidor) shapes the core of Puerto Rico’s traditional Plena music. Plenera drums aren’t equipped with any jingles and, while historically fitted with a goatskin drumhead, also come kitted out with synthetic drumheads these days.

Needless to say, there are many more unique models besides the frame drums we looked at in this article. Take a look at our complete range of Percussion Instruments for more, or head to our Brazilian Percussion department for a broad selection of samba-approved drums!

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