Wooden tongue Drum
“I think I better knock, knock, knock on wood……” – Otis Redding
What is a Wooden Tongue Drum?
In simple terms a Wooden Tongue Drum is a box made entirely of wood, that when struck with a mallet or hand makes an acoustic, melodic sound. This sound then reverberates inside the chamber of the instrument and is projected out through the “tongues”.
But there’s a lot more to this wonderful instrument than meets the eye, or the ear…
A Wooden Tongue drum is a musical instrument made of wood, usually in the shape of a box, with tongues or keys on the playing surface.
The wooden Tongue Drum is a member of the Idiophone family of instruments. An idiophone is an instrument which vibrates throughout its body when hit to produce sound. The only instrument older than the idiophone is the human voice itself. Since the tongue on the tongue drum is attached at one end to the drum body, the tongue drum can also be classified as a lamellaphone. Notable members of this family include the Sansa, Mbira, and Kalimba.
Tongue drums are known by many different names including Xylodrums, Log Drums, and Slit Drums. If you were to trace back the origin of the tongue drum, you would find a version in early African and Asian cultures. Early tongue drums had a wide variety of functions within these cultures, from story telling to beating out war cries over long distances.
The origin of the Wooden Tongue Drum
The Wooden Tongue Drum was originally an ancient African instrument that was used by tribes as a means of communication. It is an instrument that has taken many forms, and also many names including Log drum, Slit drum, Xylodrum and more.
The earliest incarnation of a Tongue Drum would have been no more than a tree shaft, the main body section of the tree that would have been cut into a segment about a metre long. This shaft would have then been hollowed out, and long tongue shaped designs cut into the wood. There might be as few as one or as many as eight tongues cut into the wood with each one usually being a different length to it’s counterpart to produce a different sound, either higher or lower in pitch.
“One of the earliest forms of swearing was through a tongue drum, used by tribes against their rivals in times of dispute.”
The tribes people would use these drums to communicate with each other using different pitch inflections. They would each have a specific rhythm that meant their name, or if they wanted to speak of a major hunt or an emergency of some sort, these too would have their own rhythm and pitch inflection. One of the earliest forms of swearing was through a wooden tongue drum, used by tribes against their rivals in times of dispute.
What makes the sound?
In musical instrument terms, a Wooden Tongue Drum is what’s called an idiophone. This means that the drum creates the sound primarily from the instrument as a whole, without the use of strings or membranes. In other words, the wood that forms the structure of the drum is also responsible for producing the sound.
Tongue Drum’s are mostly commonly made from exotic hardwoods originating in Central Africa and South America.