How to Learn to Play the Steel Tongue Drum

Steel tongue drums (known under many other names as well) are among the most popular musical instruments invented in the XXI century. Probably you have also been eager to master this spacy sound. So why wait? Choose yours among steel hand drums and give it some time to play your favorite melodies or improvise fantastic moods!

The First Acquaintance

If you only start mastering the instrument and haven’t chosen your one yet, there are 2 things you should pay attention to:

  • It should be easy to hold while playing, and so your fingers or mallets never miss a tongue. The same applies to the mallets, by the way, if you choose to use them.
  • If you don’t like how it sounds, the rest does not matter.

Other parameters like design, tuning, and the number of tongues are also important, but you can choose the next drum after you master the art. The first one should be comfortable — both to touch and to hear.

After you get your drum, start improvising. Most drums use a pentatonic scale or other scales designed to avoid disharmony, so any notes will form a sort of melody if you choose the right intervals.

Last but not least: choose whether you want to play with your hands or with mallets. Of course, you can master both techniques, but you better get familiar with one and then start learning the other using the knowledge you have obtained.

Mastering the Tunes

If you buy a new steel tongue drum, it comes with a manual. It usually contains a songbook with a number of tunes and songs you can play with this steel hand drum. However, you can find the notations of your favorite song online.

You can start with the simplest sequences. We don’t speak of rudiments regarding hand drums, but rather phrases, as it’s a tuned instrument. Remember some things that may help you advance:

  • The longer the tongue, the lower the note. It’s logical if you apply some scientific thinking.
  • Hold the lowest key tongue the closest to yourself. It will help you easier reach the tongues you want.
  • Often the drum comes with a pair of mallets, but it doesn’t mean you can use any other ones.
  • As you hit the tongue, try to make the moment of contact as short as possible. It results in an undistorted sound.
  • You may mute the sound by pressing the tongue firmly or shift the pitch by pressing it more gently. These techniques require trying.

Pro Tricks

To unleash your instrument’s full potential, you may go beyond simply hitting the tongues, one by one. You can do much more with your drum, from non-destructive retuning to creating more sounds. Here are some tricks to make your steel hand drum a more versatile instrument.

  • If you want a differently tuned drum but want to avoid buying another one, there are ways to tune it with magnets. Adding magnets to tongues alters their pitch by changing the weight.
  • You can also hit the places between the tongues (usually, it’s the center). They are not supposed to be finely tuned, so it’s easy to take the wrong note here.
  • Find songs that can be transposed to the scale of your drum and learn them. The melodies will remain recognizable yet become new.

There is much more to learn about this magic instrument, but these are the things that only can be discovered, not shown. We wish you more moments of eureka and euphoria, given that music is the math of the spirit. Have you heard this in the sound of a steel tongue drum? You will.

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