One Road to Improv: the Tongue Drum

Can you name the item

(Photo credit: willapalens)

The best way for beginners to start improvising is to play simple percussion. You can start right now, tapping on anything, although it is nice to have a mentor to show you ways to acquire skills and provide examples of interesting rhythms and use of accents, meters, timbres, etc. YouTube has an endless supply of all kinds of instruments, rhythms, timbres, ensembles, etc. You don’t need anything fancy – a tabletop or some cardboard boxes will do just fine, but it is also a pleasure to have some real instruments to play as well.

My second favorite percussion instrument (first place: the djembe) is the tongue (or slit) drum. They are not terribly cheap, but you can make fascinating rhythmic patterns with them very easily – the different “tones” add a touch of pitch variety. Note: I am referring here only to wooden ones; there is another class of metal tongue drums – we’ll take that up another time.

Listen to this nicely recorded performance of Tyrone Douglas playing 3 tongue drums:

Chmiller912 gives a terrific performance on a single tongue drum tuned to F minor pentatonic (3:10):


Steve Carmichael show us how to make your own tongue drum in this video (17:30). Thanks, Steve!

Here’s another performance (“Just Because”) by Tyrone Douglas on 3 beautiful tongue drums (3:37):

The band Wille and the Bandits start off this song (“Chillout”) with the drummer on a tongue drum. Cool! (3:30)

Xylodrummer gives us an interesting overhead video perspective in this tongue drum performance (1:16) on YouTube.

“Bereddia” shows 8 tongue drums that he made – comparing the different cuts of the tongues (7:06).

In this video, two tongue drums are played with the fingers.


This is a commercial demo for Grover log drums (sic), but it shows how to layer ostinatos to make a nice overall effect.

If you’re interested in more information on tongue drums:

Check out the Facebook interest group on Tongue Drums – there are many links to videos and other information.

How to Build Your Own Slit Drum

Convinced? Want to buy one? As far as I can tell, the handiest place to find one is on eBay.



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