Frame Drums: from the Bendir to the Bodhran

From the bendir: an East and North African drum that’s been going for centuries and is still played today, to the bodhran: a traditional Irish drum which some music historians posit is a distant cousin of drums like the bendir, frame drums or hand drums in their various different forms are an integral part of vastly different folk music from all over the world.

Both the bendir and bodhran are frame drums. But what is a frame drum?

A frame drum is a shallow, round drum with a diameter that can range between around 14cm to 16cm and has some form of skin stretched over the round frame and held in place with cord, laces or tacks. Unlike the bodhran, some frame drums feature one or two snare wires that lie against the underside of the skin and vibrate when the batter head is struck (much like the more modern snare drum). The bendir, for example, traditionally has one snare wire. Most frame drums will also include a thumb hole in the side of the frame so players can hold the drum in one hand and beat out a rhythm with the other.

While most frame drums are played with just one hand, by varying rhythm, speed and strike and experimenting with dampening the batter head and snare wires you can create a surprising range of different percussive sounds.

Shapes & Sizes

Frame drums can come in an array of different sizes since the diameter and depth of the frame determines the sound: the wider and deeper the frame, the lower pitched the tone. The material used to make the drum also plays a part. So a wooden frame will sound more full and warm than a metal frame, which has a sharper and colder sound to it. Since percussionists tend to prefer a warm sound over a cold and sharp one, wooden frame drums are far more common.

Then there’s the drum skin, or batter head, which also has a big influence over the quality of sound. Natural batter heads can be made of goat or buffalo hide, but you can also get synthetic heads made of certain plastics or other materials. Synthetic skins often sound more powerful and brighter than natural drum heads.

Lastly, the tightness, or tension of the drum head will also affect the sound of a drum: the higher the tension, the sharper and snappier the sound.

Different Frame Drums

Besides the bendir and bodhran, there are various different kinds of frame drums out there. Here’s a brief roundup:


The darbuka is a vase-shaped drum that’s played in North African countries like Morocco and Algeria. This traditional Arabic instrument is played with both hands, has no snare wires and is a simple frame drum. The edge of the head can be struck with the fingers of one hand while the centre of the batter head can be struck with the other hand to create a range of different sounds.


The genga is very similar to the bendir, and like the bendir, comes from Morocco where it plays an important role in Gnawa music, which comes from the Gnawa people. This unique style developed over centuries and is still played during celebrations, in squares and on city streets.



The tabal is a North African drum with two batter heads and doesn’t feature snare wires. One end can be struck with a beater while the other end is struck with the other hand. The tabal is also a popular drum in South America, where it’s worn around the neck and played during festivals, where the powerful, thumping sound pounds out danceable beats.


Traditionally, bongos are a pair of small drums made from clay. Like the tabal, bongos also come from North Africa but are played exclusively by hand. Since the two drums usually have a slightly different diameter, the bongos have a different pitch to them, and since they’re quite small, they have a bright overall sound.


Hand Drums

Hand drums encompass an array of different drums, including the bodhran. These drums almost always have a wooden frame and can be played using various techniques to produce a wide-ranging, warm sound. Some hand drums also feature a wooden cross so the drum can be held comfortably while it’s played.

You can find even more percussion instruments to expand your setup right here at Bax Music.

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