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Neo-Bodhran - Frame drum style

(the 'alter-ego')

"A big drum and no stick"

Paul Marshall (c) 2004

Listen ...... View ..... How to play in this style .....

Over recent years the bodhran has developed an alter ego, Jeckyl and Hyde if you will. Both styles are represented on the FDG CD Frames without Borders - Foreword by Glen Velez.

The bodhran is grouped as part of the frame drum family, this definition is appied to any drum where the depth of the shell is less than half the width of the head. The traditional bodhran is categorised only by the low tuning and the playing with a two headed stick. Crossbars are primarily structural and not really a defining factor although many players use them as a playing aid for applying pressure to the skin or for holding to play in an 'open skin' manner.

The NEO-Bodhran is a different beast altogether. Read on....

Audio Link to N Scott Robinson's site - Travel by Hand a superb neo-bodhran hand drum solo

Link to awesome video of Glen Velez playing neo-bodhran (link to superb Drummerworld site)

(image borrowed from there too, thank you Bernhard & Glen for indulging me)

Master percussionist Glen Velez is responsible for the adaptation of hand drumming techniques to this Irish instrument. Here Patrick Cooperman of Cooperman Drums outlines how the bodhran became the neo-bodhran

"...In the early 1970's Tom Callinan returned from Ireland with a bodhran drum; the head had torn from tacks during the flight back (blame it on the dry air in planes). Tom wanted my dad to re-head the drum, but my dad was intent on re-inventing the drum and he was off running building solid shell oak frames with thick goatskins. ...

"The nearest outlet for the drums was an funky ethnic music store in Greenwich Village (NY) - Pietro Deiro Music Headquaters. As it turns out, Glen Velez was a young student from Manhattan School of Music and had begun his exploration of hand drumming (see an excellent history of this at Layne Redmond's site where she talks about Glen and Coopermans early involvement). Glen saw one of my dad's bodhrans at Deiro's and he travelled to visit my dad and have a custom frame drum/bodhran built. I was in college at the time and remember my dad calling me and telling about this amazing bodhran player who didn't use a stick. By the time I came home for summer vacation my dad was practicing his finger strokes (a la Glen), though he was a "regular" kind of stick drummer guy (and not really a bodhran player, in the end".

"We have surely seen the drums evolve during these 30+ years of bodhran building. I am very proud of our own work - our "neo-bodhrans" as well our latest deep shell models - and I'm really proud that the roots of our drum design run deep - Glen must surely be credited with the advancement of frame drum playing here in the US, and it's wonderful for me to know that his early experiments with the bodhran emerged with the help of the work of my dad, and that today we are building a Velez signature bodhran as well a dutifully evolved version our original bodhran"

A drum presented as such will indeed have the playing qualities of a frame drum moreso than the traditional instrument and it would be an obvious step for a virtuoso such as Glen to apply his playing techniques to these drums, IMO the original drum is mis-represented by such an instrument but it does not invalidate in any way the new styles and techniques that are developing.

Because of Glen's use of the instrument in this way, a new style of bodhran instrument and bodhran playing has developed I have coined the term NEO-bodhran, neo meaning new. Both the instrument and style have a polar difference from the traditional. There are now a number of companies offering such neo-bodhrans and there is some confusion among the bodhran buying public as to which drum is which. It is rarely indicated that 'this is a hand drum' or 'this is a stick drum', or this traditional and this is non-traditional. I support the existence of this type of bodhran and the 'new' playing styles, indeed I play and use the techniques from middle eastern frame drumming in my own bodhran playing, I just wish that a different name had been selected to avoid confusion :).

The original bodhran head is made with animal skin, usually goat, whereas the contemporary neo-bodhrans are generally, but not exclusively, headed with mylar, a plastic. There are several reasons for this but the most important will be for stability in a variety of ambient atmospheric conditions see tuning.... Goat or other skin will always try to balance itself with the ambient environment and can often become too tight or too loose depending on which conditions prevail. With a plastic head, there is no ambient effect and the drum will stay in the tuning. These drums will de-tune over time as the mylar stretches, the heads generally aren't replacable unless by the maker.

The commercially available neo-bodhrans are of higher pitch than the traditional instrument. They nearly always have the crossbars in the back and they will have a sharper bearing edge to bring out those wonderful edge tones, teks and kas.

David Kuckhermann has kindly permitted the Dojo to reproduce his pages of basic instruction for playing the 'neo-bodhran' in the middle eastern style. Thanks David.



How to play in this style

David has been a student of Glen Velez, He is a graduate of the world music department of the Rotterdam conservatory and is currently a professional musician and teacher in Berlin. He is also a very serious player and is a future force in European & Global Frame and other hand drumming. He rocks, watch this space!

David's site contains some superb video demonstrations of various world percussion instruments and their techniques. It's well worth a visit

NEW David has a tutorial DVD available soon -

Previews WMV (23mb) MPG (30mb)