Tongue Drum

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Project by GnarlyErik posted 08-07-2012 04:50 PM 4247 views 16 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I saw videos of these on YouTube, and loved the sounds they make. They are also called ‘Slit Drums’ because of the slitting of the top. I decided to build one of my own, so did some research to come up with the basic parameters. I had the stock on hand so I went to work.

This is a fairly simple project which was quite gratifying when finished. Since I am not particularly musically inclined, I presented the drum to my wife who just loves it. She is jealous and very protective of it when someone else wants to play around with it.

The drum is approximately 18” long by 9-1/2” wide x 5” deep. The sides and ends are of 3/4” #1 Pine, and the top is 3/4” Cherry. The bottom sounding board is 6mm Okoume marine ply which I happened to have lying around, but think any dense plywood without voids will do. The bottom is recessed 1/4” and is removable with 16 #6×3/4” RH screws so the inside is accessible. Finish is Tung oil inside and out.

I understand these may be ‘tuned’ by removing more or less material from the bottom sides of the individual tongues to achieve whatever pitch one desires from a particular tongue. But, I am not musically literate enough with notes to attempt that. Besides, it sounds great to my ears now anyway! The drum may be played on a table, or directly on one’s lap.

Now I must build one for each grand child!

Here is a link to demonstrate the sounds produced by this instrument:

UPDATE 6/26/2015: I’ve made a new blog entry to pass along a few things I’ve learned to help those who may wish to build any of these:

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

7 comments so far

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2393 days

#1 posted 08-07-2012 06:04 PM

Really neat ! Like you I am not musical but I think my sister-in-law would love one of these !

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View JoeinDE's profile


444 posts in 3527 days

#2 posted 08-07-2012 06:49 PM

These have been on my Christmas build list for a while, but I have not made one yet. Thanks for the inspiration to make a couple as Christmas presents for my kids.


View NormG's profile


6283 posts in 3208 days

#3 posted 08-07-2012 11:51 PM

Great build, I have made several of them, they are fun and each sounds very different from the last one

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View madts's profile


1873 posts in 2544 days

#4 posted 08-08-2012 08:38 AM

I like this too much.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3279 days

#5 posted 08-08-2012 12:59 PM

Very nice. I’ve been thinking about making one of these for some time. In my case, both my wife and I are quite musical and if the pitch is not right, it will bother both of us quite a bit. That may be a disadvantage for me. I’m genuinely curious about what it takes to get the pitch right. The idea of taking material off the back to change the pitch sounds like a real “hit and miss” approach. It seems like you would make every finger a little big (making the pitch a little flat) and then remove material to bring the pitch up to the right level. What if you remove too much? I see no option for adding material back.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View GnarlyErik's profile


312 posts in 2338 days

#6 posted 08-08-2012 01:36 PM

I’m sure you are right about the pitch, but I know so little about that subject I am not equipped to really comment. But, it may not be quite so hit-or-miss as you think, and here is why:

1. The length of the slits cut into the sounding board affects the pitch considerably, and a bit of experimentation in altering the slit length ought to allow you to get the desired pitch – or close to it, then chiseling, filing or sanding away small amounts should get you to the place you want;

2. Material is easily removed of course, and can be ADDED back as well by glueing on material strategically placed. My thought there would be to use a plug-cutter to make plugs which are then glued into shallow drilled holes on the underside of the tongues, and then sanding away until the desired pitch is achieved.

Either way, I think you would need to have already done the finish oiling or coating as that likely will change things too;

I can not tell you the particular pitches my drum is ‘tuned to’, but I can say each tongue already has a very pleasing sound as it is now built. There is some data online about tuning these, but I have not attempted to do so:

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

View RetiredCoastie's profile


999 posts in 3387 days

#7 posted 08-08-2012 03:03 PM

Very nice I will have to make some for my grand kids. Looks to be a fairly simple build and something to fill the gaps between larger projects and a way to use the scraps up. Thanks for posting!

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

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