I have thoroughly enjoyed many years of sitting in my bright green bodhran tent at
Australian folk festivals, especially Woodford Folk Festival and the National Folk
Festival, attempting to answer questions ranging from the naïve to the extremely
complex about the complexities of owning, caring for and playing the bodhran. Another
extreme pleasure over those years has been meeting touring luminaries of the bodhranii
including Gino Lupari, Ann Marie O’Malley, Donal Lunney, Ruma Barbero, Ben Stephenson,
Charlie Heymann, etc etc etc, and asking them the same questions as I am most often
asked. Another aspect of the bodhran makers craft is getting involved in the endless
stream of theories about tippers and playing styles with players from beginners to
Here are the most commonly asked questions with the most commonly given answers based
on that experience.
Q. How should one pronounce “Bodhran”?
A. Any way you like! However it seems the “D” should forever remain silent. BOW-RON,
BOE RON, BOOR RON and BERARN are enjoying popularity at the moment. An old Scotsman
I know who learnt in Scotland swears it is pronounced BURRUM and says he hits it
with a BIFFEM – BIPPIN is also popular in Scotland. Who cares?
Q. What do I look for when buying a Bodhran? How do I pick a good Bodhran from a
A. A good one looks up at you and smiles at you, and when you pick it up and play
it, you instantly and completely fall in love with it, the rest are ordinary. Many
of these ordinary bodhrans can produce a quite reasonable sound and last for years,
however most professional players have two or three drums made to order by their
favourite bodhran maker/s.
Q. How do I learn to play a Bodhran?
A. First get a bodhran and a tipper, even an ordinary one will do.
There are many good books, videos and CD’s available, I recommend Alison Boyd’s Bodhran
Practice CD: slow sets & instructions for beginners and practice which you can purchase
from this site for $20 plus postage.
Q. How do I know if I’m good enough to play in a session?
A. You are!, a session is a social event and a learning experience, not a competition!
Of course an Irish music session is always a more enjoyable listening experience
if all participants are playing confidently and competently. I personally recommend
playing along with CDs of the greatest Irish bands in the world as often as possible
in the comfort of your own lounge room, sometimes with the volume turned down very
low. It is a great virtue to be able to play softly when necessary.
Q. What sort of tipper should I use?
A. A basic tipper kit for anyone aspiring to be a good all round bodhran player is
a traditional hardwood tipper weighted slightly toward the bottom with a comfortable
grip, and a small selection of special effects tippers to experiment with.
Q. How long should a tipper be?
A. Rule of thumb is about a hand span, but you really should experiment all the time.
Tippers are also balanced to be top or bottom heavy, have different points of balance,
various weights and a huge range of grip profiles. There is also a more complex
level of considerations such as the attack shape of the tipper ends, however it is
worth pointing out that really good players can play well with any tipper at all.
Q. What is the best skin to put on a bodhran?
A. Goat is still far and away the most versatile skin for a bodhran, however I am
getting spectacular results from a special kangaroo skin and there are stories aplenty
about the qualities of skins of many other animals, God help them.
Q. I bought a drum when I was over in Ireland and it now sounds very tight / the
skin has popped off / doesn’t sound very good since I brought it back to Australia,
A. 1. YOU WERE RIPPED OFF!
There are a few picturesque bodhran makers in the old country who cater exclusively
for the tourist market and the product is absolute rubbish, sometimes completely
made in countries like Pakistan. Some even devote much time and expense to make a
top quality bodhran for famous players and a mass produced range of rubbish for everyone
else. Warn your friends!
A. 2. WEATHER
It is a well-known fact that it pisses down rain most of the time in Ireland so the
skins are always pulled on nice and tight or they won’t sell, but when you bring
an Irish bodhran back to Australia it sounds hard . There are a few reputable bodhran
makers in Australia.
Q. How should I treat the skin?
A. With great care!
Q. How do I play a triplet?
A. Sparingly! But seriously folks, the triplet is simply a bit of a follow through
with the top of the tipper, it will come naturally in good time. Be patient and practice
Q. I experience pain in fingers / wrist / back of hand when playing, what am I doing
A. When learning to play the bodhran it is important to practice for ten minutes
or so every day rather than longer sessions once a week. There are a few pain barriers
to get through, but with daily workouts you will soon be able to play, as you like.
Remember the old basic rule is that a five-minute practice every day is much better
than a one-hour session once a week!
Q. What size bodhran is best?
A. Big bodhrans are loud, small drums are high pitched and sensitive. The middle
of the road seems to be about 16”.
Q. Can I put a new skin on an old Bodhran?
A. Yes, but it really is a job that requires a fair bit of experience. Best take
it to a reputable maker for they have the best skins and techniques.
Q. How do I care for my Bodhran?
A. *Treat your bodhran with even more care than you would any other expensive musical
* A plywood case or substantial soft bag is a good idea, as hot dry weather can actually
explode your drum, rendering it completely useless. DO NOT leave your bodhran on
the back seat of the car; near an open sunny window or by the fireplace, this is
a death sentence.
* If your drum is tight and pingy sounding, simply spray a small amount of water
on the inside of the skin and rub it in. It will take a few minutes to soften up;
so do not use too much water. The outside of the skin requires periodic dressing
to remain supple, any good dubbin will do, simply apply the dressing after playing
and wipe off excess before next use.
* Always completely de-tune your tunable bodhran after every time you play, make
this a habit as re-skinning is an expensive process.