Steel Tongue drums are actually one of the easiest instruments to learn. So, if you’re mesmerized by their relaxing sound, follow the guide to bang your first spiritual melodies.
Five Steps to Zen Drumming
Steel tongue drums are pretty easy to play even if you have a zero drumming background. Basically, all you need is a sense of rhythm to make that metally guy sing his charmingly resonating melodies.
I’d highlight these steps in learning its melodious language:
- Fiddling with the drum.
- Choosing a technique.
- Figuring out the scale.
- Watching loads of YouTube tutorials.
- Practice. And again practice.
So, let’s quickly review each step individually and explain how it will help you craft the hypnotic soundscapes with this mystical instrument.
- A bit of playing
I think that the best learning technique is… having fun. While it’s important to be disciplined when learning a musical instrument, it’s also vital that you sincerely enjoy it.
It’s okay totally to treat this drum like a new toy and explore its potential through curiosity. Feel its metal texture. Check how hefty your model is. Experiment with positioning.
By the way, there is no right or wrong way to position a steel tongue drum. But all experienced players recommend that you put its lowest (bass) note as close to your body as possible — it’s easier to access the melodic circle and play melodies this way.
As for placing it… It can be put anywhere: your table, knees, one of the arms, car trunk, grill stand, your sleeping cat — you name it. As long, as there’s no water nearby and the place is clean.
- Technique: Hands or Mallets?
Both techniques can be used actually. It mostly depends on your artistic vision. Answer these questions:
- Which sound do you want?
- How skilled are you?
- What’s the size of the drum?
The thing is, mallets produce a louder and brighter sound. It stops being that meditative and turns into a percussion instrument with more transparent accenting. It won’t sound like a Creole steelpan or marimba, of course. But still: high frequencies will be more present.
Fingers deliver a more mellow tone. This is when the steel tongue drum will dimly shine with its famously soothing voice, which can allegedly make your chakras open. Besides, it is a nice tactile exercise that will let you ‘touch’ the sound and hone your rhythmic sense even better.
But for a beginner, I’d recommend starting with mallets. Mostly because they provide a more precise strike. (Especially if your drum is small).
- Figuring out the scale
If you know nothing about music theory, and the only scales you know are that on a salmon, let me explain them quickly.
Scales can be major — happy, energetic, bold. They can be minor — sad, introspective, mysterious, or even creepy like in a horror movie score.
Many steel tongue drums have a pentatonic scale — any cliché Asian melody from old kung-fu movies and games is based on it. And some even offer a Zen diatonic scale of Akebono, which evolved in the medieval Japan.
So, before you order a drum, you need to decide what kind of melodies you’d like to improvise. Pensive and melancholic with minor? Or cheerful and optimistic with major?
- YouTube to the Rescue
The reason why I added this step is that your drum may require maintenance. Now and then you’ll need to tune it, so it doesn’t lose the pitch. Without the proper pitch, your meditation music will turn into a hellish cacophony.
As a rule, there’s a system of magnets, which allows you to take care of tuning — nothing super brainy really.
If you have no absolute pitch, don’t worry. There’s a good bunch of free tuner apps you can get for your phone: Cleartune, gStrings, Waves, and many others.
Besides, YouTube is a treasury of free lessons. You can find simple exercises and step–by-step breakdowns on how to play some traditional melodies.
- Practice Always Makes Perfect!
Finally, it’s practice. A steel tongue drum is one of the easiest melodic/percussive instruments to master. Mostly because you can’t make a mistake while playing it — it’s failure-free! The metal tongues are tuned that way that there are simply no ‘wrong’ notes to hit.
So, whatever you bang, it will still sound nice in a way. But it also means there’s a limited scope of melodies you can recreate: steel tongue drums do not feature chromaticisms.
But even if you won’t be able to play Purple Haze intro or some of Taylor Swift’s ballads, you still can immerse your mind in some wonderful meditation with this little fellow. And this is the reason why so many musicians and music lovers adore it.
Don’t Hesitate, Just Meditate
Steel tongue drums is a marvelous instrument. It sounds heavenly, costs cheaply and has a very mild learning curve. So, if you want to enrich your life with a new musical experience — this could be an answer.