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Bodhran - 'Playing in' a Bodhran skin

PaulMarshall ©2004

Skin is a natural product that has spent years on an animal and will have specific generic qualities as well as those specific to that animal. For use on a bodhran, there are qualities that are desirable and those that are undesirable.


  • soft to give a quieter more absorbent impact
  • flexible to permit improved tonal options
  • consistent thickness to provide for purity of tone
  • Thick and thin are both desirable for different drums in different scenarios, there are no rights and wrongs but there are differences of opinion and direction.


  • Hard & scratchy
  • inflexible - too thick and heavy
  • uneven - badly prepared or damage / scar tissue

Bodhrans moreso that other natural drum heads require their skin to be 'played in'. A new bodhran skin will almost always be too hard. A hard skin sounds 'scratchy' and thin. A thick head is more likely to be heavy, inflexible and scratchy to the ear but in time and with playing it will develop.

As a skin is being played in, it will loosen and soften. The impact of the stick on a tensioned drum will break up the fibrous structure that binds it tightly together and served the animal so well. With a traditional heavy-skinned bodhran this process may literally take years and represents a lot of time investment by the player before s/he achieves a desired sound. It is a risk as the final results are not guaranteed.

With a thin or lambeg skinned instrument such as those made by O'Kane, Metloef, Bartlett and others, the playing-in process is shorter because there is so much less fibrous material to contend with, additionally on both weights of skin there may be natural or chemical treatments applied to soften the skin which give a head start.

A way of a player themself speeding up this process of softening up the skin is the application of some form of treatment such as lanolin or lexol, saddle soap, dubbin, oils etc; many products have been tried with varying degrees of success. Any application of this nature should be applied to the playing surface only. and youshould satisfy yourself that youwill not damage your drum. Drumdojo does not recommend any product, guarantee any success or accept any liability. All applications are undertaken at your own risk and you should speak with others to confirm that what you are doing is appropriate.