Like any instrument the Bodhran can be a bit tricky to play especially when starting out on it. It definitely requires a learning curve and handling the tippers can the longest to learn for novices. However there is no denying the immense popularity of the Bodhran in Irish music history and also its utilization in the present day.
Commonly referred to as the “heartbeat of Irish music”, the Bodhran is used in many different types of Irish and many other international music types as well. The earliest versions of this beautiful Irish traditional drum used goatskin for the head and strong lightweight and dry wood for the body. Commonly played using stick that can be both single and double headed also called the tipper, the Irish Bodhran has made its dear place in many international music genres.
The definite origin of the Irish traditional Bodhran is still a point of debate to this day, some claiming that the very first versions of this Irish drum may have been developed and used in Africa and then made their way to Ireland by travelers between the regions, however there are others that back the fact that the Irish traditional Bodhran made its way into Ireland through Spain where it was first originated. Regardless of the origins, this traditional Celtic variation of the drum has played a much important role in shaping the Irish music history. Here are 5 basic steps to set you off in the right direction to become a pro player of the Bodhran.
Step 1: The best Position for the Bodhran and Yourself
Right off the bat, we want to clarify that these steps are for a right handed player, however if you are a lefty (one of the rare breeds of musicians), just follow each step in the opposite side.
Okay now, the best position is the seated position, as this will give you more control of the Bodhran by making it easier to hold it against the knee and mid-section. Once you get familiar with the instrument, it will become easy to play it while standing up as well, but when starting out seated position suits the best. Then pick your Bodhran up and hold it firmly at a 90 degree angle to your body and place it on your left knee with the left armpit covering some part of it and the front side that has the thin membrane on it facing right. The pitch of the Bodhran is controlled usually by the left hand that is place at the back of the drum at its top end and pressing the skin with desired pressure. The sweet spot is often not too far deep in the armpit and not too far forward as well, although this might vary for everyone, find your sweet spot in a couple of tries.
Step 2: The Best Way to Hold the Tipper
The tipper produces music by gently landing on the surface of the membrane on the top side, it is not supposed to vigorously beat the surface at all. When holding it, the best grip is a loose one like you are holding a pencil. Numerous Bodhran Tippers have an off-centered knob or grove that helps to hold it and also indicates where you should hold it as well. The “point side”, which is the one landing on the surface of the Bodhran should always be longer to create flexibility while swirling it.
The main aim of a loose grip is to make wiggling the tipper easier, but it should be tight enough not to let the tipper fall out of the hand. Many novices have problems at the start when it comes to holding the tipper with the right pressure, but with practice of a week or two it will become a habit.
Step 3: The Very Frist Basic Strokes
The basic stroking motion of the Bodhran Tipper is the famous arc. Start with the downward motion for the first downs stroke. The arc should start from the chin and end at around the right knee. Follow the same arc motion in the opposite direction with your wrist and complete the first up stroke in the process. Immediately you will feel the wright of tipper and it will wiggle too much in your hands. Keep doing these up and down strokes for a while until you feel comfortable with them and eventually the strokes will become a lot smoother, fluid and even shorter without requiring any thought from you.
This whole motion is supposed to be done by the wrist and the forearm alone and not the elbow. The elbow should be as stationary as possible and the wrist as loose as possible. You will have to practice quite a bit in order to build the wrist stamina. At the start the wrist might hurt a little because of the constant jarring and wiggling effect.
Step 4: The Famous Kerry Style Rolls
The Kerry style is the most trusted and well-known technique when it comes to playing the Bodhran. You should know at this point that this is a pro technique that requires a lot of training before it can be mastered. So don’t worry if at the start desired results are not achieved.
The tipper in this technique is held perpendicular to the head and the wrist should be rotating forward and then backward when striking the skin membrane on the Bodhran. The simplest way to understand this is by considering a clock, if the striking end of the tipper is at 3 the other end should be at the position of the 9 to be most effective. Real pros of the technique rotate the wrist as to strike every number in the clock face in order to vary music intensity and levels. For more in-depth explanation on the Kerry Style and a few other techniques, here is a good demonstration.
Step 5: Practice Makes a Musician Perfect
Well here is an actual pun intended. However diverting to seriousness, as much practice you do, the more perfectly you will be playing it. The ideal scenario is to find a chunk of time every day because practicing every day you will be able to master certain techniques and you wrist will adapt to the motions most efficiently as well. No pro became a pro by not practicing enough and it takes years of practice to master it perfectly as well. In case you feel like quitting because of lack of improvement or very slow improvement, be sure that most experts held the same thought at some point in their Bodhran playing and learning time as well. So literally “don’t worry and keep playing” is what they say.
These 5 steps will lead you to become a pro level player of the Bodhran. This gets aided more when the modern widened availability of all the music instruments in Ireland and all over the rest of the world including the Traditional and Modern Irish Bodhran is considered. It is typically easy to find the Irish Bodhran for Sale in numerous music stores across the world and also from so many online sellers. It is probably the cheapest option to Buy Bodhran Online as well because sellers these days ship internationally, however investigating their quality of instruments is a good idea when buying from any online sellers.