Let’s get to know CSM’s Folk Instruments! Today’s instrument is the Tank Drum – also known as the tongue drum, or hank drum.
What is a Tank Drum?
The Tank Drum is a cushion-shaped percussion instrument made from metal. The top of the drum is sliced into small petal or tongue shapes to create different pitches when struck with a mallet. When played, the tank drum has a beautiful, bell-like tone.
Many tank drums are factory made on machinery that punches the shape of each tone into a metal blank. Higher quality tank drums are tuned by hand after manufacture, with careful attention paid to the length of each metal tongue. If the tone emitted from a tongue is too sharp the tuner can use a hacksaw to lengthen the cut line of the tongue, lowering the pitch. Instrument’s whose tone is too flat mean starting over with a new instrument.
How do you play one?
The tank drum is played by striking each tongue with a set of soft rubber mallets. Harder mallets tend to dampen the sound, spoiling the tone. Striking the middle of the tongue produces the clearest tone, with the least amount of buzzing or sympathetic vibration from adjacent tongues. Alternately, some players opt to use their hands to tap each tongue to create a softer sound. Some tank drum manufacturers will include a set of soft rubber mallet rings that slide onto a player’s fingers to use for striking.
Each tongue on the drum has a set tone, and different drums can be tuned to different scales. CSM’s tank drum is tuned to a C Major Scale, but there are many variations – including minor scales, pentatonic scales, and modal scale patterns. If the tank drum has been made of a ferrous metal, players can experiment with sticking small magnets underneath the tongues to alter the pitch.
Who can play the tank drum?
Just about anyone! The tank drum has its roots in several cultures – it has similarities with instruments from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. It has become popular with world music composers and interpreters and is often used as part of ensembles with other world music instruments. Additionally, the tank drum can be found in music therapy settings to facilitate relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness techniques. With such a pleasing tone and low skill requirement, the tank drum is super accessible for anyone hoping to incorporate a little more low-stress music into their daily music practice.
Jennene Estes CSM Owner Cello, Violin, Viola, Piano, Voice Instructor The Catoctin School of Music