A bodhran - © WavebreakmediaMicro
A bodhran - © WavebreakmediaMicro

The bodhràn is a very well known instrument in traditional Irish music. In pubs, in the street, or in concert, this Irish instrument makes all lovers of great music dance and sing to the sound of typical Irish percussion and rhythms. Small presentation of the bodhràn, its playing technique and its cost…

The Bodhràn: a centuries-old instrument

Presentation of the bodhràn

The bodhràn is a kind of Irish drum made of goatskin stretched over a circular wooden frame. The tension of the skin is then regulated by a system of keys, so that the musician can play the bodhràn in any weather (goatskin is particularly sensitive to temperature and humidity and can relax a lot on a rainy day).

The diameter of a bodhràn can vary from one instrument to another, and covers dimensions ranging from 20 to 60 cm. The membrane stretched over the frame is usually made of real skin, or synthetic, for the cheapest instruments.

Most of them also have a system that allows the bodhràner to hold the instrument without too much trouble (this is located on the other side of the canvas, and is in the form of a wooden cross fixed to the frame on either side).

The techniques of playing on bodhràn

As far as the bodhràn itself is concerned, the instrument is played using a sticker, a sort of long carved wooden stick, which, by striking the goat skin, gives the so particular dull sound.

The playing techniques vary according to the musician and the music, but most often, the sticker is held in the middle, and hits the bodhràn skin with a swinging movement, hitting the drum on each end of the sticker.

You should know that there are also many types of stickers, sometimes in wood, others in rubber… Without forgetting the rods, kind of sticks tapered in flexible strips which make it possible to give a completely different effect on the bodhràn. The hand not holding the instrument does not remain inactive, however, and simply acts on the sound produced, by placing the fingers on the other side of the goatskin, with the aim of muffling the sound or not.

Cost of a bodhràn

There are actually 2 types of bodhràns: the traditional ones, handmade by famous violin makers, and the industrial bodhràns, mass-produced in factories, more advantageous in terms of price.

A traditional bodhràn made by a violin maker..

This is aimed at musicians who already have a good level and above all have a good budget. The traditional bodhràn is most often characterized by a handmade frame, as well as a real goatskin, tanned by the violin maker himself.

The key-locking system is then an indispensable element, unlike industrial bodhràns, most of which are not designed with this tensioning system. For any good bodhràn player, the key system is therefore an essential point, not to be neglected.

Another advantage: the violin maker who will make you a bodhràn will be at your disposal to make you a tailor-made instrument, according to your needs. He will even be able to personalize it for you by decorating the skin with a Celtic pattern made of interlacing (why not your initials?).

On the price side, count between 100 and 600 € for quality bodhràns. You should also know that most of the luthiers who can make bodhràns are based in Ireland. We therefore advise you to contact them by phone, then to pick up your bodhràn on the spot: an excellent excuse to spend a few days in Ireland!

Industrial bodhràns

There, no surprise: don’t count more than 80€. Much less sophisticated than a handcrafted instrument, the industrial bodhràn is made of a synthetic skin painted and decorated with interlacing, with no tightening key system.

The skin is fragile, has no clamping key system and remains extremely sensitive to room temperature, and will be very strongly stretched in dry weather, as well as being particularly dilated in wet and humid weather.

In any case, this option is ideal for trying out the bodhràn: it will allow you to become more familiar with the instrument, to try out Irish rhythms, and thus discover the fabulous world of traditional Irish music. And if the instrument seems too complex, you can always hang it on one of your walls to decorate!

It is quite easy to find bodhràns of this type in Ireland (visit a few music shops and you will find them). The most famous brand is Waltons, a brand that makes quite good musical instruments.

So much more to discover...