Posted in Research for Project 2 Examples

Еxample 2 Research, Part 1: Tambourine and Frame Drum

The two instruments I chose for my second percussion duet are triangle and tambourine. Triangle I already wrote about in the research for my first percussion duet example, so here I will only look at tambourine. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to first mention that both triangle and tambourine are two of the most ignored instruments in the percussion family. Grover and Waley (2000) write:

While most serious percussion students spend time practicing snare drum, timpani and keyboard percussion, few spend time practicing accessory instruments like tambourine and triangle … This is unfortunate since both student and professional percussionists spend much of their performance time playing on accessory instruments.”

The tambourine is the descendant of one of the oldest percussion instruments – the ancient frame drum, as its variant with jingles. Frame drum remained practically unchanged, today it is exactly as pictured on ancient monuments. (Blades:385 ) It is found in most cultures and its invention, as is pointed out in Encyclopedia Americana (1832: 113), “would seem naturally to have taken place very early, as it is very simple…” and are “generally found, even among the rudest tribes.”

Frame drums are often used in shamanistic ritual, where it is played with a bone, horn or stick. One example is the Siberian shamanic frame drum (Fig. 1a) which has cross-bars inside the frame. Sometimes numerous rattles of pieces of iron and other material can be added hanging to the bars (Fig. 1b), in order to make the instrument jingle and jangle.


Fig. 1a. Siberian frame drum

shaman 2.jpg

Fig. 1b. Siberian frame drum with the added jingles on the back

There are numerous definitions of tambourine, but if we simply define it as a frame drum with jingles, like I did at the start of the post, not taking into account the way it is played, where the jingles are placed or other aesthetic elements, then this would be one of the very primitive examples of the instrument.

Since the shaman in Siberia may equally be male or female, therefore it is played by both genders. (Rysdyk, 62) The three frame drum players in an Eskimo ‘orchestra’, on the other hand, are all male, just like their solo players. (Burch: 111, 114) However, in a number of cultures, like in the Middle East, the frame drums are strongly associated with women.

In year 2380 BC, Smith writes, you will find the first named drummer in history – Lipushiau (Fig. 2), the granddaughter of the Sumerian king Naramsin. She played on a balag-di, a frame drum used in liturgical chanting, as a priestess in the temple of the Moon in Ur. Beside a terracotta figure unearthed with her playing the instrument, other Sumerian archeological finds such as the statuettes of women playing frame drums with their bare hands roughly dated 2000 B.C., point out that female used frame drums in rites connected with the worship of the moon. Next to the moon God – Nanna, Inanna or goddess of life, death and fertility was also important deity and Post (112) mentions that the frame drums were used in her temple ceremonies, processions and also in an annual “sacred marriage” ceremony that was later inherited by the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Forte (1983: 195-6) also links the frame drums with the cults of Inanna and Ishtar.


Fig. 2. Lipushiau

In Ancient Egypt as well, the frame drum was played by women. In the Egyptian New Kingdom dynasties female musical troupes called khener used rectangular and round frame drums. (Post, 112) In the temple complex of Dendera, dedicated to the goddess of music and sexuality, a birthing chapel depicts thirty-two priestesses playing frame drums  (Fig. 3) as they march down the left wall towards the main shrine area. (Redmond, 1997: 102) Frame drum was also an attribute of the fierce and grotesque dwarf-like household God, Bes (Fig. 3b), who scared away evil spirits and protected new babies and women in childbirth.


Fig. 3a. Priestesse playing frame drums in Dendera temple


Fig. 3b. God Bes playing frame drum

During their sojourn in Egypt, frame drums were known as tof to the Israelites, or timbrel in an English translation. They appear sixteen times in the Hebrew Bible, once again most often in the hands of dancing women. It was their principal percussion instrument used with dances, and by Miriam, Jephtah’s daughter, to accompany the triumphal, song of victory after the passage of the Israelites through the Red sea.

All these old Semitic frame drums of the ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and those of Israelites, are also found in the pre-Islamic Arabia with the name duff (Sach, 108), and will appear once again in the Greco-Roman and Christian Antiquity under the name tympanon or tympanum. Up to this point, before the fourth century B.C., there have been no records of jingles being added to the frame drums, with what these could have incorporated being only internal snares, placed under the skin inside the frame. (Montagu, 2002: 18)

Now, with the Greco-Roman frame drums, a type appeared with metal discs or jingles placed in the shell. (35) Since there are no sources outside of Greece or Rome, we can speculate that it was here that tambourines first came into existence. (36) The ancient fertility cult of Mother Goddesses, like Inanna/Ishtar, and those in Egypt, continued to exist in Greece and Rome in the mystery cults of Cybele and Bacchus/Dionysius. References to the use of frame drums, again by women, appear in Greek art, after the fifth century when these cults were introduced by the immigrants from East. (Riggs, 439) During the last century of Antiquity, frame drums also appeared in Rome in association with the two cults. Here we find one of the first depictions of the frame drum with jingles inserted in its shell, as seen on a sarcophagus – Scenes of Bacchus (Fig. 4) produced circa 190 A.D. where maenad plays the instrument.


Fig. 4. Sarcophagus, Scenes of Bacchus

However, the use of frame drums to accompany ecstatic dances and processions in the cults prompted their condemnation by the new Christian leaders. They weren’t only associated with the pagan divinities that “promoted sensuous experience during liturgy instead of pure spiritual communion with fertility…”, but also have a connection with fertility and sexual desire, a concept “…now tainted by aura of sin…” Trying to cope with this, the Christian church offered the new alternative of worship and turned to vocal music and the a cappella singing of Psalms.

The frame drum and tambourine were then reintroduced to Europe in the Iberian Peninsula from eleventh and twelfth centuries onward by the returning Crusaders. It’s thanks to the Arabs that the ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek percussion instruments were preserved and new ones were invented, while Europe sank into the Dark Ages. (Blades, 190) There, tambourine, for example mazhar (Fig. 5) with five jingling rings, was joined with a call to prayer, to herald the birth of a child and to pay a final token of respect at the funeral service. The more joyous occasion of marriage and great festivals also called for its use.

Mazhar 02.JPG

Fig. 5. Mazhar

Brought by the Crusaders, in the middle Ages, tambourine was a rustic instrument, no longer specific to female players. Its popularity as a dance and folk instrument in Spain and Italy was probably due to the fact that it was the instrument of gypsies. It was also used by Troubadours and associated with wandering minstrels, showmen and jugglers. (Encyclopedia Americana) Finally, in the eighteenth century, it found its way into the classical orchestra in imitation of Turkish janissary music, popular in Europe at the time. It remained an accustomed part of the traditional orchestra, where today, frame drums, sometimes referred to tambourine without jingles, have a lesser role with their from time to time usage.

As they appear with many cultures around the world in many different forms, many playing styles evolved. It is broadly divided into two main categories by the way the instrument is held. With the Oriental grip, the player uses the left hand to hold the instrument at the bottom with the skin facing away and fingers of both hands are playing the instrument. This grip allows player to produce numerous sounds and variations in tone by using the drum skin. The Arabic drumming uses doum, tak and ka, which I mentioned in the post on finger cymbals and Middle Eastern rhythms for percussion solo example no. 3, may also be use here. Indian drumming bols, which I mentioned in another part of the research for the same example, can be used as well. Look at this video to see the modern use of the oriental grip:

The other grip is European, and first appears in Dutch artwork from seventeenth century. The player holds the instrument in the left hand so that the drumhead faces up toward the sky, with the thumb touching the skin. While the oriental grip allowed the multiple sounds and various nuancing to be played on the skin, European grip focuses more on the jingle-base sound. See the video, the tambourine playing starts around 1:20:

Finally, to finish this post, it should be noted that what is often called tambourine in the context of popular music, often doesn’t have a skin and therefore isn’t a tambourine nor a frame drum, instead it is a close relative called jingle ring. I really enjoyed reading about the history of the frame drum and tambourine. I am aware that there are many other techniques and instruments from this percussion family to be described, but this post already covered a lot. In the next part of my research, I will write about the form I’ve chosen for my second percussion duet example – scherzo and its smaller version, scherzino.

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1a. Siberian frame drum

Fig. 1b. Siberian frame drum with the added jingles on the back

Fig. 2. Lipushiau

Fig. 3a. Priestesse playing frame drums in Dendera temple

Fig. 3b. God Bes playing frame drum

Fig. 4. Sarcophagus, Scenes of Bacchus

Fig. 5. Mazhar


Grover and Whaley (2000) The Art of Tambourine and Triangle Playing. Meredith Music Publications

Blades, James (1992) Percussion Instruments and Their History. Wesport: The Bold Strummer, Ltd.

Lieber, Francis (1832) Encyclopedia Americana. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey

Rysdyk, Evelyn C. (2016) The Norse Shaman: Ancient Spiritual Practices of the Northern Tradition. New York:Simon and Schuster

Burch-Pesses, Michael (2008) Canadian Band Music: A Qualitative Guide to Canadian Composers and Their Works for Band Meredith Music Publications

Post, Jennifer C. (ed.) (2013) Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader. New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Leonard GorelickE. Williams-Forte E. (eds.) (1983), Ancient Seals and the Bible. Malibu: Undena Publications, cited in Post, Jennifer C. (ed.) (2013) Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader

Redmond, L. (1997) When the Drummers Were Women. New York: Three Rivers

Sachs, Curt (1940) The History of Musical Instruments. New York: W.W. Norton, Inc.

Montagu, Jeremy (2002) Musical Instruments of the Bible. Lanham, Md.,&London: Scarecrow Press

Riggs, Christina (ed.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press




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