Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bodhran Solo

part of the show dance masters, touring germany, performed by tom conroy and the dancer is james greenan

Frame Drum Lesson #1 basic strokes

part 1 of lapstyle frame drum video lessons by Mike Reetz. This video describes how to play the three basic strokes (dum, ta, and ka).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bodhran Workshop

Free bodhran workshop for beginners at Passionfruit in Athlone, with Michael Vignoles, bodhran and uilleann pipe maker from the Claddagh, Galway.
January 2010

Bodhran TV - Kevin Kelly LIVE Bodhran

Kevin Kelly performs LIVE on Kerri-Anne Show Sydney.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beoga - Eamon Murray

Bodhrán solo in Austria 12/05

Playing in 7/8 time on the Bodhran

Lucy Randall demonstrates how to play in the irregular time signature of 7/8 on the Irish Bodhran, something seldom heard! She shows the three variants of 7/8 in a simple, clear way, then demonstrates how they are used in a tune with harmonica player Brendan Power. Check out Lucy's instructional book/CD on her MySpace site:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bodhran Online Tutor Part 6

Part 6 of a 7-part online bodhran tutor from

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Liverpool Irish Festival lands at Southport Arts Centre

MICHAEL McGoldrick returns to Southport Arts Centre this month, and this time he is bringing his friends!
The founder member of Toss The Feathers, Flook! And Lunasa will perform at the venue on Wednesday, October 28 at 8pm.
A regular member of Capercaillie and Kate Rusby’s band, Michael’s collaborations include Afro Celt Sound System, Jim Kerr, Youssou N'Dour and John Cale.
By fusing traditional music with trance or jazz, Michael is already regarded as one of the greatest flute players of all time.
The talented musician is regarded as one of the best flute, whistle and Uillean pipe players of his generation
He was named BBC Folk Awards Musician of The Year in 2006, as well as scooping the award for BBC Folk Awards Best Live Act 2006 with the Kate Rusby band.
The line-up for the gig includes: John-Joe Kelly on bodhran and Banjo virtuoso, Colin Farell on the fiddle, Mike Galvin on guitar and of course Michael McGoldrick on flute, pipes and whistles.

Monday, September 28, 2009

WATERVILLE: New event celebrates drumming

WATERVILLE -- As the world's oldest instruments, drums have served to gather and connect people through storytelling, healing and celebration. That's the motivation behind Drums Along the Kennebec, a festival new to Waterville this year, said Faye Nicholson, director of Revitalize the Energy in ME, the nonprofit organizing the event.

Located at Head Of Falls from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the festival will feature drumming performances, workshops, an art installation and food.

"Everybody has rhythm," said Jordan Benissan, who will showcase drumming rhythms from West Africa. "It's alive in some people. In other people it needs to be awakened."

At 10 a.m., an American Indian elder and others will open the festival by performing a water ceremony to bless the Kennebec River. Benissan and American Indian drummer Ellie Symonevich will provide music specially composed for the dedication.

There will be a community drum circle at 2 p.m. Festival organizers will invite all performers and the public to use drums of any kind, such as trash cans, oatmeal boxes, shakers or clapping hands.

Festival organizers are also inviting attendees to bring organic or biodegradable objects from home or garden to weave into a six-foot dream catcher. Objects could include shells, feathers, straw, stones, wood, leaves or flowers, said Waterville artist Shirleyanne Leaman, who is constructing the dream catcher.

"Everyone should bring a dream," she said.

Drummers and drumming groups, from various backgrounds, will perform throughout the day. Performers include:

* Red Hawk Medicine Drum, an all women American Indian drum group from Waterville, will perform in order to "honor those who came before us and those here today who live, work and visit along the Kennebec," said the group's drum keeper Ellie Symonevich.

* The Different Drummers Drum Circle, a freestyle drum group led by Rick Cormier of Yarmouth, will deliver improvised and emotive rhythms.

* Master Drummer Jordan Benissan, originally of Togo, and his students will demonstrate West African percussion.

* Ferg N'Sons, a trio from Unity, led by Kathy Van Deventer, will play traditional Scottish music on pipe band side drums, rope tension drums and a Celtic bodhran drum.

* Local artists Phil Whitehawk, Connie Bellet, Big Bear and others will present the Native American teaching drum.

* "Experience the Gong," a workshop and performance by Todd Glacy of Saco will introduce the history of gongs and demonstrate "the truly awesome sonic properties they possess," he said.

* Acoustic drum player Mark Merrill of Waterville will perform and give lessons on the snare, tom-toms and bass.

People will have the opportunity to make their own drums, learn the history behind the various types of drumming and watch a "drum-walk" across the Two Cent Bridge. Muffins and coffee will be for sale for breakfast, with chili and cornbread for lunch.

The event is organized by REM, a nonprofit that supports a network of volunteers in Central Maine.

"REM is all about building community, so this is an attempt to show the diversity of our heritage through the drumming," Nicholson said. "Eventually we hope to make this a yearly thing and an international one."

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for musicians and the community to convene downtown, and with any luck the businesses will benefit as well," said Kimberly Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

"It sounds like an event that will draw people not just from Waterville and local colleges but from other communities," said Shannon Haines, executive director of Waterville Main Street.

Benissan commented, "You can use the different rhythms you hear from around the world to integrate a community."

He described drumming as something both functional and sacred. It is functional as a tool to preserve history, tell stories and communicate across long distances.

Drumming is sacred when it is used for healing. "This music is designed to reactivate the physical being of a human being during illness, to wake up," Benissan said.

Admission is free, but donations will be accepted to support the festival and a fund to one day build an amphitheater on the riverfront.

Nicholson advised festival-goers to bring a chair, a natural item to add to the dream catcher and a drum or materials to make a drum. The festival's rain date is Sunday.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bodhran Solo) Michelle Stewart Live At The Gaelic College
Hello, my name is Michelle Stewart and I am the founder and creator of BodhranExpert, a site dedicated to learning the bodhran. The website is coming soon, but here are some bodhran tips. Please feel free to subscribe to my channel and rate this video. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rhythms Of Ireland To Tour New Zealand

Following the highly-successful and critically acclaimed sell-out Australian tour in March 2008, Ireland's most celebrated and elite company of dancers and musicians, THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND, has returned very successfully by popular demand with their awe-inspiring and innovative new production to Australian audiences from April until October 2009. THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND are the sound and spirit of the Emerald Isle.

It is an exhilarating show of perfectly sounded traditional rhythms, song and dance that is the most exciting Irish dance and music production at this present time. This production has been seen by over two-million worldwide amassing an unsurpassed reputation for their "stunningly executed performances".

The incomparable quality and pure unadulterated spectacle of their work perfectly blends the ancient traditions of Irish dance and music with the innovative and flawlessly choreographed production values of contemporary Irish excellence.

Though the show THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND was formed in 1998, the traditional singing, sean nos, dates back to as early as the 1600s. The term sean nos from the Irish/gaelic language, means 'in the old style'.

Along with traditional and authentic Irish dancing and singing, audiences will hear the bodhran being played. It holds pride of place as the principle percussion instrument of Irish traditional music and dates back to 3000BC.

Long before RIVERDANCE, there was Irish dance, music and song, often taking place spontaneously in kitchens, taverns and family gatherings. Across the small villages across Ireland , the percussion of the dance steps fuelled the exciting pulse of the music and its ancient compelling rhythms.

These traditional arts endure today in much the same way. Evoking a time and place steeped in legend, lore and enchantment, THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND offers the most authentic Irish cultural experience of any production at this present time. It should be highlighted that THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND, features the finest award-winning artists performing today.

Stars the calibre of DAVID MOORE, lead male dancer of RIVERDANCE; ANTHONY STREET, lead male dancer of LORD OF THE DANCE; SEAN KELLIHER, the winner of six Australian Championships and has toured with RIVERDANCE for the last seven years internationally, and DEIRDRA KIELY, the 23-year-old world champion from Waterford, Ireland, who was the female lead in RAGUS and has danced at the world-famous Milwaukee Irish Festival and with acclaimed traditional bands The Chieftains and Solas, plus a cast of 14 dancers with extensive experience with major Irish international productions thus ensuring a standard of excellence and quality in performance.

Director/Choreographer MICHAEL DONNELLAN-ENNIS needs no introduction. He is 4-times World Irish Dance Champion, the ex-lead male dancer of RIVERDANCE and LORD OF THE DANCE. He directed the acclaimed MAGIC OF THE DANCE.

Music direction will be by five-times all-Irish champion MARTIN O'CONNELL, considered to be one of Ireland's most dynamic young button accordian player from Brosna County, and THOMAS JOHNSTON, the Uilleann pipes and whistle player who comes from a strong piping tradition in County Monaghan - these two acclaimed talents will be accompanied by live musicians from Ireland, which includes all-Ireland singing champion LISA MURPHY from Belfast. Experience a spectacular evening of traditional Irish dance, music and song enhanced by stunning costumes, lighting and sound.

This is indeed, THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND. "Legend, folklore and enchantment are interwoven in a voyage of discovery without falling into the trap of sentimentality.

That's not to deny that some passages make the hairs on the nape of the neck risethe troupe's adaptation echoes the past as the dancers seem to fly across the stage to the beat of the bodhron and the soaring notes of the fiddle.

Great music, dancing and singing by performers of zipping quality and enthusiasm make you want to clap in time. In fact, the haunting sound of the pipes, the energizing sound of the taps, the deep rhythms of the bodhrn and the shrill cry of the fiddle - the best of the Irish experience", notes Michael Donnellan, the Choreographer of THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND.

THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND are now firmly established as a must see attraction..This production encapsulates the new found confidence in Irish Culture, and keeps it real by bringing audiences dance and music that comes straight from the source.

THE RHYTHMS OF IRELAND has been critically-acclaimed by media Australia-wide is simply not to be missed.....The Real Culture - The Real Passion.

DIRECTOR AND CHOREOGRAPHER - MICHAEL DONNELLAN - BIOGRAPHY Michael Donnellan began Irish Dance at the age of 5. He soon became one of Ireland's greatest champion dancers, a title he holds to this day.

There are major competitions for champion dancers, Michael's success in these elite competitions put him a step above other champions. At the age of 12 he won the Munster, All Ireland, Great Britain and the British National Championships.

That same year he achieved the highest honor by winning the World Championships. At the age of 19 he became a professional dancer, taking a leading part in "Lord Of The Dance". Less than a year later he danced the leading part in "Riverdance".

In 1997 he returned to competition winning the World Championships again! He retired from his competitive career as a 4 time Munster Champion, 2 time British National Champion, 6 time Great Britain Champion, 2 time All-Ireland Champion and 4 time World Champion. After many tours with "Lord Of The Dance" and "Riverdance" he looked for something else to challenge him.

In 1999 he developed "Magic Of The Dance" and in 2002 "The Rhythm Of Ireland" - Michael Donnellan choreographed both productions. He is currently the only male dancer to have performed lead roles in all three major Irish dancing shows.

He has completed over 150 performances with "Lord Of The Dance", over 1000 performances with "Riverdance" and 1500 with "Magic Of The Dance" where he toured 520 cities in 50 countries in 5 years.

His choreography is still performed world wide on a nightly basis. While juggling his career and tour schedule, Michael passed the exams necessary to become a certified Irish Dance Inbstructor (TCRG)!

He has taught dancers in Ireland, England, Germany, Canada and the United States.

Wednesday 14th October - Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (07) 577 7188)

Thursday 15th and Friday 16th October - Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland NZ (Bookings: Ticketmaster (09) 970 9700)

Saturday 17th October - Founders Theatre, Hamilton NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (07) 838 1111)

Thursday 22nd October - Great Lakes Centre, Taupo NZ (Bookings: Ticketek (07) 377 1207)

Friday 23rd October - Municipal Theatre, Napier NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (06) 835 2702)

Saturday 24th October - Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (06) 357 9740)

Tuesday 27th October - TSB Showplace, New Plymouth NZ (Bookings: Ticketek (06) 759 0021)

Wednesday 28th October - The Opera House, Wellington NZ (Bookings: Ticketek (04) 384 3840)

Thursday 29th October - Marlborough Civic Theatre, Blenheim NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (03) 520 8560)

Friday 30th October - Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch NZ (Bookings: Ticketek (03) 377 8899)

Saturday 31st October - Theatre Royal, Timaru NZ (Bookings: Ticketek (03) 688 4160)

Wednesday 4th November - Civic Theatre, Invercargill NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (03) 211 1692)

Thursday 5th November - Regent Theatre, Dunedin NZ (Bookings: Ticket Direct (03) 477 8597)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tributes paid to top engineer and much-loved musician

AN engineer who was at the top of his field, and was well known in the local Irish music scene, has died after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Ivor Cunningham, who worked at Boscombe Down, died at home with his family at his bedside on August 19, aged 66.

He was born in Northern Ireland and moved to England at the age of 15 to become an apprentice electrical engineer at Plymouth Dockyards.

He moved his family to West Harnham in 1977 and started working for the Department of Environment at Wilton UKLF, Boscombe Down, Bulford, Larkhill and Tidworth military camps.

He was a highly respected engineer who designed the electrical layout and blueprints of the lighting runway systems at Boscombe Down and Port Stanley in the Falkland Isles. When attached to the Army/RAF he held the ranks of colonel and squadron leader respectively.

He officially retired in 1992 but worked as a consultant for Total Maintenance Services in Salisbury and volunteered for Age Concern as a handyman. Known as the ‘Sweetie Man’, he found great satisfaction in helping others.

He finally retired to El Mojon, Spain in 2004 and became known as ‘The Duty Engineer’, always on call and available to lend his expertise.

Mr Cunningham was well known on the Irish music circuit as a founder member of CBS – so named from the members’ surnames, Ivor Cunningham, Denis Barry and Finbar Sheehan – who organised Irish bands from Ireland to play in Salisbury.

He played the Bodhran drum and enjoyed taking part in a sessions with other musicians but was too modest to perform as part of a band.

His daughter Julia Burton said: “He became a mentor to many and a father figure to many, some for a season and some throughout his whole life. It’s hard to begin to imagine the gap in our lives he has left.”

A remembrance event will be held at the White Horse, Quidhampton, on Saturday September 19 at 8pm, and is open to all who knew him. Clive Cunningham, his youngest brother, will lead an Irish music tribute.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Paddy Delee in Cahirmee

Paddy Delee playing the bodhran and Bill Egan playing the accordion at Cahirmee horse fair in 1980.

Brendan Power - Sweet Bulgarity

Brendan Power - Sweet Bulgarity
Lucy Randall - Bodhran
CD - Lament for the 21st Century - available at and itunes

Visit Brendan Power at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bodhran Online Tutor Part 5

Reel rhythm: The Man of the House. Part 5 of a 7-part online bodhran tutor from

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bodhran Course for Beginners

Basic 5 week bodhran course for total beginners. Classes commencing in Sept in Brockagh Centre. Learn how to play along to any Irish tune in just 5 lessons. Students must have their own bodhran. Cost €100 to be paid on first night. Limited places. Contact Alan 086 354 3206.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Help Us Save the Francis McPeak School of Music

Join with celebrities in a campaign to save a Legendary Irish Music School: The Francis McPeake School of Music, Belfast

Celebrities including the Pogues and Michael Flatley are backing the 'Mosaic of Support' project and a documentary to be filmed showcasing international supporters

The McPeake Family started playing music, in Ireland, in 1904. The family were at the forefront of the revival of Irish and folk music throughout the 1950's and 1960's. Francis McPeake I penned the folk anthem 'Will Ye Go Lassie Go' aka 'Wild Mountain Thyme' in the early 1950's. With such a pedigree, the McPeakes were approached in 1977 to host tin whistle lessons for six weeks, to give the youth of Belfast a cultural alternative to the civil unrest that was a part of everyone's life in Northern Ireland at that time. An amazing music school grew out of those lessons and thirty-two years later, the McPeakes are still teaching traditional music in Belfast. Throughout these 32 years, the McPeakes have inspired and taught to the highest standard in traditional music and produced the largest number of All-Ireland competitors, champions, and tutors and inspired many, many professional musicians. Currently run by Francis McPeake IV , the school unfortunately is under threat due to lack of funds and as such the 'Mosaic of Support' has been created.

Dancing legend Michael Flatley has lent his support to the campaign to secure the future of the school. Michael said, "I wish The Francis McPeake School of Music the very best of luck. The music of our heritage is a very important part of our lives; it influences us when we're young and is invaluable as we get older."

Bill Wolsey, entrepreneur and owner of the most public houses in Ireland's history, said "The McPeakes have taught all classes and creeds for four generations in Belfast. They have taught through good and bad times, through times of trouble and times of peace. To me The McPeakes represent everything that is good about Ireland."

Along with Michael and Bill other internationally acclaimed celebrities including The Pogues, Moya Brennan, Phil Coulter, Ash, Therapy, Brian Kennedy, and Sir James & Lady Galway, have come together to lead in supporting the future of the world renowned Francis McPeake School of Music by purchasing tiles in the 'Mosaic of Support'.

'The Mosaic Of Support' campaign calls on local, national and international artists, businesses and music lovers to purchase tiles within an original Mosaic art piece. The Mosaic will contain 3000 individual tiles. Each supporter that purchases a tile (or 2!) will have their logo or name put on the tile. Award Winning, London Designer, Jake Tilson is on board to create the art piece, which when completed will be exhibited to the public and on line on the school's web site. The cost of one tile is $200 and will help to secure the financial future of the school.

Francis McPeake IV is also producing a documentary called "Are ya goin' to McPeakes tonight?" the story of how the Francis McPeake School of Music has changed people, culture and Belfast since 1977 and the resulting social impact of it were to close. It will examine the extraordinary influence the school has had on the lives of the students, how Belfast has been changed through their music and highlight the many professional musicians and friends of the school and the professional traditional musicians the school has produced.

The documentary will feature the fundraising journey and the creative development and recording of a musical score called the "Jam Piece", the concept of which is when a artist, individual or business purchases a tile, they will be asked to record and video tape one note of music, 15 seconds long, which will then be orchestrated into a large piece of music - 'The Jam Piece'.

'The Jam Piece' will be mixed by Tom Newman, engineer and producer of 'Tubular Bells', the theme from the Exorcist, forming the signature piece for the documentary. The documentary will have a premier screening in Belfast and we will hopefully get distribution for it here in the US.

To become a supporter of the Francis McPeake School of Music simply log onto or call +44 (0)28 9024 4544 for further details.




Irish Mosaic Supporters (as at 13 August 2009)

Entertainment: Michael Flatley, Moya Brennan, Frances Black, Brian Kennedy, Ash, Therapy?, McPeake, The Furey's & Davey Arthur, Donal Lunny, High Kings, Martin Hayes & Denis Cahill, Sharon Shannon, Kieran Goss, Tommy Fleming, Phil Coulter, The Pogues, Brendan Graham, Patricia Daly, Sir James & Lady Galway

Sport: Wayne McCullough

Business: The Merchant Hotel, EMI Music, Junction One, Belfast City Airport, Belfast City Sightseeing Tours, Belfast Duck Tours, Bernard Campbell Solicitors, Big Bear Sound, Windmill Lane Recording Studios, Fingerprint Learning, The Garrick Bar, Cafe Carberry, Morris Estate Agents, Willie Clancy Summer School, Sinful Design, Custom Pro Golf, One Zero Zero

Francis McPeak IV Mosaic of Support Project

Maggie's Music hosts The Matt Bell Bodhran Workshop july 23 in Shady Side, MD

*special event: July 23,7-9pm.Thursday night: Maggie's Music hosts The Matt Bell Bodhran Workshop in Shady Side, MD, 20764. To register and info:; 410-867-0642

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bodhran Online Tutor Part 4

Reel rhythm: part 4 of a 7-part online bodhran tutor from bodhranexpert

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

History of the Bodhran

By Ronan Nolan

THE bodhran evolved in the mid-20th century from the tambourine, which can be heard on some Irish music recordings dating back to the 1920s and viewed in a pre-Famine painting. However, in remote parts of the south-west, the "poor man's tambourine" - made from farm implements and minus the cymbols - was in popular use among mummers, or wren boys.
Sean O Riada was one of the first to stick his neck out, brazenly describing the bodhran as our native drum, adding his view that its history goes back to pre-Christian times. Others, while not denying that it could have had an ancient role, take the view that its introduction as a musical instrument is a more recent phenomenon.
There are many theories:
* That the drum originated in Africa and came to Ireland by way of Spain.

* That it originated in Central Asia and was brought to Ireland by Celtic migrants.

* That it originated in rural Ireland and evolved from a work implement to its present musical status.

* That it was devised by cunning Kerry farmers to push up the price of goatskin.

What we do know for sure is that drums are generally circular and, until recent times, tended to be covered with animal skin. And that their emergence in various cultures at different times need not be related events.
Given our history, the drum would have had a role in Irish warfare. We know that up to a couple of centuries ago, Gaelic chieftains had their own march tunes. But given the destructible nature of wood and animal skin, it is not surprising that none have survived from early Gaelic times.


The bodhran's circular body bears an uncanny resemblance to the skin tray used for centuries on farms in Celtic countries for separating chaff from grain. It also featured in rural mummers' plays and harvest festivities, adding credence to the theory about its agricultural background.
Sean D Halpenny in his booklet "Secrets of the Bodhran" says that the instrument arrived into the popular area of music in the late 1950s. He adds: "Its close cousin the tambourine was a lot more popular, but its use has nearly died out. The author has been using the tambourine for 20 years and remembers hearing old recordings of percussionists from the west of Ireland using the instrument and some years ago Seamus Tansey, the Sligo flute player, doubled on the tambourine on an LP recording."
Going further back, to a recording from 1927, John Reynolds from Co Leitrim can be heard playing the tambourine as he accompanies flute player Tom Morrison. The jingles may have been supressed by taping, as it sounds uncannily like a bodhran.
On recordings made in New York between 1926 and '29 by the Longford fiddle player Packie Dolan, Neal Smith, who played bones in Dolan's Melody Boys, can be heard playing either bodhran or tambourine, with a distinct percussive sound. In the mid-20th century spoons and bones also provided percussion for Irish dance music while the snare and pedal drums were popular with the ceili bands.

Sean O Riada
The bodhran found its place in the traditional music of recent times largely through the work of Sean O Riada and Ceoltóirí Cualann, in which the late Peadar Mercier played the instrument. One of Mercier's colleagues in Ceoltóirí Cualann wasEamon de Builtéar. They often played together at sessions in the youth hostel in which Mercier worked in north Wicklow.
Eamon de Buitléar told me that the bodhran was played in some parts of Kerry and that following its use in Sive, John B Keane's play staged in Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1959**, others gradually took up the instrument. Keane had heard it played by mummers from the Listowel hinterland. [According to the stage script, the instrument used was referred to as the tambourine, beaten with a stick]. In 1960 O Riada used the instument for the incidental music in the Abbey's production of Listowel writer Bryan Mac Mahon's The Song of the Anvil.
But the earliest evidence of the tambourine in Irish music comes from the watercolour painting "A Shebeen in Listowel," dated c.1842. Now on loan to Listowel Library, the painting by artist Bridget Maria Fitzgerald depicts an interior scene in which a flute player is accompanied by a youth playing the tambourine.
The "poor man's tambourine", which the modern bodhran closely resembles, is seen in a 1947 photo taken by folklorist, the late Kevin Danaher, of three young mummers in west Limerick. Two of the boys are playing the instruments which appear to be made of circular wooden bands used by farmers for separating wheat from chaff, or even used on building sites for removing larger stones from sand.On one of the instruments there can be clearly seen one of two slits in the timber for holding it while sifting.

Taped-up jingles

Ceoltóirí Cualann
, under the guidance of Sean O Riada, gained quite a reputation in Ireland before evolving onto the world stage as The Chieftains, with Peadar Mercier playing the bodhran.
But it was to Davy Fallon, an elderly bodhran player and farmer from Castletown-Geogheghan in Co Westmeath, that Paddy Moloney turned to for the first Chieftains' album. Fallon was well into his seventies by then. He used an old-style goatskin bodhran with tambourine jingles around it and Paddy had to persuade him to tape up the jingles so only the drum could be heard. Mercier took over Fallon's role as The Chieftains gained popularity and started to tour.
Today Mercier's place is filled by Kevin Conneff. In a roundabout way, Conneff was to be an important link in the emergence of the bodhran among the popular folk/traditional groups. He played the instrument on the landmark Prosperous album featuring Christy Moore and released in 1972. Conneff's playing on The Hackler from Grouse Hall made a lasting impression.
Prosperous led to the formation of Planxty and with Christy Moore taking over as bodhran player, the instrument's role in popular folk/tradition was assured. In the Seventies groups such as De Danann (Johnny Ringo McDonagh), The Boys of the Lough (Robbie Morton) and Stockton's Wing (Tommy Hayes) blended the bodhran into their performance as though it was as old as the music itself.
Technique continues to evolve as evident in the playing of Johnjo Kelly of the group Flook, often heard performing with Manchester flute player Mike McGoldrick. Kelly sets his bodhran skin looser than most, enabling him to produce tonal and pitch changes by sliding his left hand down inside the drum to add pressure on the skin, and then loosening it to go back to the original sound.

Josh Mittleman identifies three different types of tunable bodhrans.
External tunables have the screws mounted outside the rim, with a metal ring circling the skin, much like a snare drum. This method prevents the drummer from playing the edge of the drum, but is usually much less expensive than other methods.
Internal tunables have tuning screws mounted inside the rim, with a tuning ring under the head, just inside the rim. The screws move the ring, which presses against the head, thereby increasing or reducing the tension of the head. Mance Grady has an interesting variation on this design; he has split the ring into separate segments, one for each tuning screw, so that he can adjust the tension of the head independently at each screw.
The newest variation on the tunable bodhrán is a patented design invented by Fred Halpin. His drums have tuning screws through rim itself. His rims are thicker than normal; as far as I could tell, the tuning ring is set into the upper edge of the rim.

The bodhran has also made it into films: with Donal Lunny in The Brylcream Boys, Mick Flynn in Ballykissangel, Tim Foley inMasters and Commanders, Jackie Moran in The Road to Perdition and with Capercaille in Rob Roy. In made it into mainstream pop with The Corrs and fascinated modern rockabilly audiences in the hands of singer Imelda May. © Ronan Nolan. 2009

Josh Mittleman's Bodhran site is the best place I have found for bodhran information and links.
Malachy Kearns' also has lots of info.
Bodhran care.

Bodhran makers

** John B Keane (1928-2002), author and playright, also wrote the emigration ballad Many Young Men of Twenty. The Abbey had previously rejected the script of Sive, but were obliged to stage it after the Listowel Drama Group won the All-Ireland Amateur Drama competition with it. It was another 25 years before the Abbey accepted a script from the author ofThe Field, Big Maggie and Sharon's Grave. Among John B Keane's many novels is The Bodhran Maker.

Bodhran Workshops at Scoil Eigse

in conjunction with Scoil Éigse Tullamore 2009, Bodhrán Workshops will be offered for the first time.

Download the Application Form here!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bodhran Tutorials at is an online news and video resource for bodhran players. Check out a selection of online bodhran tutorials at their site.

Learn The Bodhran - Online Tutor Part 2

Day 2 of a free online video tutor for beginning the bodhran.

How To Make a Bodhran

The bodhran is a traditional Celtic frame drum typically attributed to the Irish. The word "bodhran" is Irish and is pronounced "boh-rawn." In traditional Irish music, the bodhran is played not to define the beat of the music as in most other music styles, but instead to accentuate its melody. A well-made bodhran can produce a wide range of notes, almost enough to sound its own melody.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Bodhran care and Maintenance

Most bodhráns are made with a goat skin. Goat skin is particularly sensitive to humidity and temperature. If the weather is hot/dry, then the skin shrinks and tightens. This gives a pingy, high note. If the weather is humid, then the skin sags and the note gets low and boomy. Usually, we need something in between, so adjustments to the skin are required. The classical way to soften a dry drum is to apply moisture - usually water. This loosens the skin and we get the deeper note. Alternatively, when the weather is damp, we need to heat/dry the skin in some way e.g. place it near a heater or use a hair dryer.

The more modern way is to buy an adjustable drum, which lets us tighten or loosen the skin by turning screws or levers, or pushing cams. The adjustable drum removes the need for water or hot air. In extreme conditions, the drum will not adjust sufficiently, and then we're left with the water or the air....

Repeated applications of water or hot air will generally deplete the natural oils in the skin. This will result in a dry, brittle, hard skin. So we have to find some way of adding some moisturising/conditioning to the skin which will not be damaging in the long term.

Different recomendations are made, here. The general opinion is to use lanolin in some form. Lanolin is an oil that exists naturally in goat hair/skin, so it seems a good place to start. Various forms are available, in the US you can buy Aqueous Lanolin in pharmacies.

Another favourite is Dubbin. Dubbin is used to waterproof shoes and boots, and can usually be found in sports equipment shops.

My main experience, here, is in the use of dubbin, which I have used to soften new, hard skins, and to 'top-up' naturally drying skins. I generally apply the dubbin to the inner skin.

I have encountered bodhráns that were treated with linseed oil. I would avoid this at all costs. The oil builds up into a sticky gum that holds the inner hand to the drum. Not a pleasant or fruitful result.

In terms of storage, make sure that the drum is left in a looser state, if tunable. The reason is quite simple. If it is tight and the weather dries, then the skin/tacks/glue may rip.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Basic lessons on how to play the Bodhran

Bodhran History

Origin and Introduction into Modern Music

The bodhrán is an old drum but a young musical instrument. Although it has existed in Ireland for centuries, it was introduced into traditional music performance only in the 1960s, and became common only in the 1970s.
I've heard differing opinions on the ultimate origin of the bodhán. Some writers believe that the drum originated in Africa and came to Ireland by way of Spain. Other people, including Henry Geraghty, believe that it originated in Central Asia, and was carried through Europe to Ireland by the Celtic migrations.

What is not in dispute, is that the drum languished for centuries outside the realm of musical performance. It was used in warfare and in various local celebrations, mostly as a noisemaker or primitive rhythm instrument. Until modern times, it was used by mummers and wren-boys in various local festivals. It apparently served double-duty as a husk sifter and grain tray.

Until the 1960s, it was uncommon outside southwestern Ireland; it was introduced to modern traditional music to Sean O Riada, who used it in his arrangements for Ceoltóirí Chualann and the Chieftains.

The crossbars were originally used to prevent the warping of the rim, which was made of wood that was bent green. Modern methods eliminate the structural purpose of the crossbars, and many drummakers now omit them. If you have a well-made drum, you should be able to remove the crossbars without any problem.

According to Ron Murphy, bodhráns were traditionally made with goatskin, sheepskin, and greyhound skin heads. He says that skins were prepared by burying them in lime for six to eight weeks, then soaking them in a river to wash away the hair. I have heard of modern drummakers using skins from donkeys, reindeer, calf, elk, deer, and buffalo. Most recently, I've heard that Fred Halpin is making tunable drums with heavy, tanned goatskin heads. Jesse Winch told me that this produces a drum with a very soft, mellow tone.

Perhaps the most significant functional development is the introduction of tunable bodhráns. Between six and twelve tuning screws move a ring which presses against the skin, allowing the drummer to tighten or loosen the skin to change the pitch and adjust for varying humidity. Johnny McDonagh told me that he conceived the idea and gave it to David Gormlie. Gormlie kept the first tunable drum he made, but gave the second to McDonagh, who still owns it.

I have seen three distinct types of tunable drums.

External tunables have the screws mounted outside the rim, with a metal ring circling the skin, much like a snare drum. This method prevents the drummer from playing the edge of the drum, but is usually much less expensive than other methods.

Internal tunables have tuning screws mounted inside the rim, with a tuning ring under the head, just inside the rim. The screws move the ring, which presses against the head, thereby increasing or reducing the tension of the head. Mance Grady has an interesting variation on this design; he has split the ring into separate segments, one for each tuning screw, so that he can adjust the tension of the head independently at each screw.

The newest variation on the tunable bodhrán is a patented design invented by Fred Halpin. His drums have tuning screws through rim itself. His rims are thicker than normal; as far as I could tell, the tuning ring is set into the upper edge of the rim.


The most remarkable experimental design that I've seen comes from Barry Hall of Burnt Earth. Hall makes a variety of ceramic instruments, including a circular didjeridu with a drumskin stretch on it, like a bodhrán. He has a picture and some recordings.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Seamus O'Kane - Bodhran - Ceird an cheoil - 5 of 5

Seamus O'Kane - Bodhran - Ceird an cheoil - 4 of 5

Seamus O'Kane - Bodhran - Ceird an cheoil - 3 of 5

Seamus O'Kane - Bodhran - Ceird an cheoil - 2 of 5

Seamus O'Kane - Bodhran - Ceird an cheoil - 1 of 5

Documentary examining the place of the bodhran in Irish music over the last 50 years, following bodhran maker Seamus O'Kane through the various stages of his work.

Music documentary series on instrument making in Ireland. Twelve different instruments within the tradition have been chosen for the series. Ceird an Cheoil also features those which are not immediately associated with Irish traditional music, such as the piano, the bouzouki and the harmonica.

The series was produced by Belfast musician, Meabh O'Hare, herself an accomplished fiddle player. She made six of the programmes with Stirling Productions in Belfast and the other six in her own company, Sonas Productions. The programmes were originally funded by the Irish Language Broadcast Fund and TG4. The series focuses on some of the top craftspeople in Ireland and explores the complex and dedicated lives these instrument makers lead in the quest for perfection. Throughout each programme there are performances and interviews from leading musicians, revealing their passion and love for their individual instrument.

Programme aired: 23/07/08 on BBC Northern Ireland. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bodhran - The Unofficial Drum of Ireland

I was recently listening to the soundtrack to River Dance. I find that the lack of lyrics in the music makes it useful to listen to while writing. I've listened to the music dozens of times, yet for some reason, I was struck by something new this time: namely, the prevalence and importance of the drums in the music. Perhaps I never picked up on it before because the sound of all those clogs creates an overwhelming impression of percussion. Yet if it weren't for the drums and their undeniable rhythm, none of those Irish dancers would be able to find the beat. So that made me wonder, exactly how much of a tradition do drums have in Ireland?

When it comes to Irish drums, the bodhran pretty much has a corner on the market. Interestingly, this instrument's history is a relatively short one, at least as it compares to those of drums in some other areas of the world. The first definite record of the bodhran's use was only about four hundred years ago, in 1603, when it was used by the Irish during their rebellion against the English. Like the taiko drums of Japan, the bodhran was used as a tool of war, allowing pipers and warriors alike to maintain a proper marching cadence. It must have been effective because for the next four centuries, this instrument remained the property of warfare and noisemakers. It was not used as an instrument of music until modern times.

In the 1960s, there was a resurgence of popularity in traditional Irish music. This trend was largely due to the influence of Sean O Riada, an Irish composer and bandleader whose compositions did a great deal for the international reputation of Irish music. Riada use of the bodhran in his music had the effect of establishing the drum as a legitimate musical instrument. Since then, this drum has gained a reasonable amount of popularity in Scotland and northern Europe, although it remains most common on its home turf of Ireland.

A bodhran is a frame drum, meaning a drum whose diameter is greater than its depth. It can range in diameter from 10 to 26 inches, although most measure 14 to 18 inches across. The depth can be anywhere from 3.5 to 8 inches. The instrument is open on one side and has a drumhead on the other, which is traditionally made from the skin of a goat. However, as with so many modern versions of traditional drums, the drumheads of 21st century bodhrans are often of synthetic materials. Because one side of the drum is open, an artist can place his hand against the inside of the drumhead, which permits him to control the instrument's pitch and timbre.

Bodhrans are usually played in a seated position. The artist holds the drum vertically against his thigh and supports it with his upper body and one hand. The other hand, as mentioned, is placed inside the drum to allow for tension control. These drums may be played with the bare hand, but a traditional drumstick may also be used. The names of this drumstick include "bone," "tipper," "beater," and "cipin." Some artists also utilize brushes, but this is a very recent advent. There are a wide variety of accepted playing styles, and because this is still a relatively "new" instrument, these are constantly evolving.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Learning the Bodhran

Irish Bodhran - Beginners' Guide


The Bodhrán is a Musical Instrument

[Eldery drum front link]If you think that this comment is obvious, then you have learned the first lesson. Far too many people pick up the bodhrán with the laudable desire to join in the music, but without the dedication necessary to learn to play any instrument properly. If you work at it, you can make lovely music with a bodhrán. If you just pick it up and hack at it, you'll be one more person adding to the bad reputation that plagues Irish traditional percussionists. Mark Nelson used to teach a class at Lark in the Morning music camp, entitled Bones, Bodhrán and Social Responsibility.
The ... class grew out of years of hearing people say "I really love Irish music, but I'm completely unmusicial and anyway, I don't have time to really learn an instrument so I'll play the bodhrán." So I insisted that anyone interested in [bodhrán classes] sign up for the whole week and agree not to play in sessions unless they were confident they would fit in. We spent a lot of time on basic musical ideas like how tunes work, arranging, dynamics, basic time, etc. The class was a gas, and a big success over the four or five years that I taught it. I had people come back year after year and it was great to see real improvement. Not to mention all the thanks I got from the fiddlers...

Rhythm in Irish Traditional Music

In Irish traditional music, the tune is everything. Mike O'Regan, writing on IRTRAD-L, put it well:
You really can't stress enough that getting the rhythm is critical. However, unlike rock and a lot of other styles, the rhythm instruments ... are not there to create the rhythm, but to draw it out, to accent and highlight it. The rhythm itself comes from the tune ... how it is structured and phrased ... and how it is played by the melody players. ... Alternate rhythms are great, but we have to stress to beginners that they must complement the original rhythm. No matter how many rhythms you pile on top of each other, they all still have to work together. The result of stacking rhythms should not be several rhythms, but a single, integrated, complex one.
The bodhrán shouldn't try to drive the beat like a rock drummer, and should rarely jump out front to solo. It should match the beat, ornament the rhythm, and follow the music.

Buying your first bodhrán

You'll need to decide for yourself how much you want to spend; a new bodhrán will run you anywhere from $30 to $300. I deliberately bought an inexpensive, durable drum to start, because I figured I'd spend a couple years beating the crap out of it before I got good enough for a top-quality drum to make a difference. I got my first drum from Mid-East Manufacturing; the body is thin wood, the head is plastic, but it has served me very well and I still use it when the weather disagrees with my other drums. Don't disdain plastic drumheads; they are impervious to weather, will hold up to almost any abuse, and on a well-made drum produce a sound well within the range of natural-skin bodhráns. And they are much better than natural-skin drums in the same price range. A lot of the low-price natural-skin drums are made in Pakistan. I've tried several and they are not worth your time or money. The skins were very poor quality, the bodies were flimsy.

When you look at a drum, here are a few easy ways to evaluate it:

  • The body should feel solid and well-made. Find the joint where the hoop of the body was closed; if it looks ill-joined, stay away from that drum.
  • The tacks should be snug to the body, and the skin should be held firmly. If the skin appears to be tearing away from the tacks, shop elsewhere.
  • Look at the corner, where the skin turns over the rim. If the corner is sharp, then the skin will tear easily. Good drums have smoothly curved corners.
  • If you don't like the sound, don't buy the drum. If it's a little high-pitched, ask if you can wet the skin a little.
These tests will help you avoid a piece of junk; any decent drum should pass all these tests easily. If you decide to invest in a higher-quality drum, here are some tips.


There are dozens of varieties of beater, differing in length, weight, shape, and balance. I found it helpful to start with a very heavy stick with a large lump in the center. The central bump makes it easier to keep a grip on the beater, and the extra mass makes it easier to learn the basic techniques, especially the double-downstroke. As you improve, you may want to move to a lighter beater. I've done so twice; my current favorite is about 1/5 as heavy as my original one.

You probably want to get several beaters of different weights and shapes. Experiment with them until you find one that's comfortable. Save the rest for future experimentation and progress.

Books, Tapes, and Classes

There are lots of workshops and classesbooks and videos, all designed to teach you to play bodhrán. In my experience, they can only teach you the basic movements, and you can get that just as easily with a couple private lessons from any friendly bodhrán player. If you want to start with a book, I can recommend Mícháel O Súilleabháin's The Bodhrán. But you really need to get someone to show you the basics.

Getting Ready

You've got your drum and beater, but you're not ready to play yet. Playing the bodhrán requires rapid, repetitive motion of your wrist. Sound familiar? If you're foolish, you can hurt yourself. But it isn't hard to avoid problems. Mark Nelson suggests you follow three simple rules:
  • Warm up before playing. I always stretch my hands, arms, and shoulders before I play for more than a few minutes. There are lots of exercises that will do the trick; here's my routine: I bend back each finger of my stick hand separately, then in combinations, then I bend the whole hand back, forward, and sideways. I grab my stick hand with my other hand and twist the wrist hard each way a few times, then rotate the entire forearm in the same way. I stretch both arms across my body, over my head, and around behind my neck. Once you're loosened up, start slowly. give yourself a little time to build up to full speed.
  • Don't over-stress your wrist. Try to play with your wrist as straight as possible; it will reduce the strain. Some people like the sound of a very loose skin; if you play that way, be aware that you're working your wrist and arm much harder. You may want to pace yourself more carefully.
  • If you hurt, stop. Take a break and do some more stretching exercises to work out the cramps. If your hand continues to feel tired and crampy, you've had enough for the day. If you have regular problems, you should probably lay off the drum and see a doctor.
I'm not trying to scare anyone; Mark is the only person I know of who had to give up the bodhrán because of wrist injury, and he was playing for long hours, very frequently, on a drum with a very loose head. But some sensible precautions will help you avoid problems.

Basic Technique

Here's a brief description of how to play the bodhrán. There are many different styles; I'm trying to describe the most common one, the Kerry style. If you can't picture what I'm describing, let me know and I'll try again.

[Back picture link]The drum is held with the left hand and arm (assuming you're right handed, which I'm not). Rest the drum on its side on your left thigh, with the skin to the right, and tuck the near side under your left armpit, so that the drum is roughly perpendicular to the plane of your chest. You will anchor the drum with your chest and your upper arm. Place your left hand inside the drum, pressed against the skin.

[Front picture link]Take the beater in your right hand; hold it at the middle, like you'd hold a pen. Hold it securely but not too tightly; it should waggle freely in your hand, but not slide in your grip. You're going to strike the drum with one head of the beater, the end where the tip of the pen would be. For now, ignore the other head. Turn your hand inward so that the tip of that pen points toward your navel. Move the beater by rotating your lower arm, so that the lower head describes an arc roughly perpendicular to the drumhead. You should hit the drum roughly at the center of that arc, once on the way down and again on the way up. That's the basic stroke.

Did you get that? If not, here's Alan Ng's description of how to hold the beater and how to strike the drum.

Start with the hand flat, grip the middle of the stick in the bottom of the gap between thumb and palm. That's what holds it. Now you can curl your fingers out of the way of playing, which means the shaft of the stick will touch and bounce off of the side of your middle finger. Now you rotate your whole forearm (point your index finger straight out to see this) along the axis elbow / wrist / index-finger-knuckle / index-fingertip. One straight line, and it should mostly stay that way while you play! The rotating stick moves in one plane perpendicular to that arm-axis, and that plane intersects at an angle with the surface of the drum.

Practice it until you can keep a regular rhythm with reasonably constant tone and volume. You should be able to accent any beat, on a downstroke or upstroke. By varying the accents, you can play different rhythms: 4/4 for reels, 6/8 for jigs, and so on.

When you feel that you have good control, you'll want to try to use the other head of the beater. The upper head is used for ornamenting the rhythm, by adding extra beats. This technique is called doubling the downstroke. On your downstroke, you want to turn your hand a little further, so that the upper head comes over and strikes the drum. It may help you to change the angle between your arm and the drum, either by tipping the drum toward the beater or by raising your elbow a couple inches. You need to figure out what works best for you; the goal is to be able to double the downstroke whenever you want, but only when you want. Doubling the downstroke should not change the timing of the beat. The extra beat should come halfway between the downstroke and the upstroke, but those two strokes still carry the main rhythm, so they must be even.

You may wonder what you're supposed to be doing with your left hand while all this is going on. Your left hand should rest against the back of the skin, allowing you to muffle the ringing of the drum. You can control the tone of the drum by allowing it to ring more or less. You can change the pitch by pressing against the skin to tighten it. Experiment; you'll find you can make your drum sing to you if you work at it.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you have the basic mechanics, you need to practice. I devoted about four months to serious practice before I played in public. If you want to play with other musicians, then the most important things to practice are matching the beat and controlling your volume. A bad drummer can throw off an entire session; how do you think bodhrán players got their bad reputation? Recording your practice sessions will be particularly helpful in this regard: You can hear if you're off the beat, playing too slowly or too fast, or playing too loud.

Tommy Hayes suggests a couple useful exercises. Once you learn how to double your downstrokes, you need to learn how to add rolls when you want them and only when you want them, and you want to learn how to make them even, precise, and crisp. Practice a single, 4-beat roll: doubled-downstroke, upstroke, downstroke (diddle-de-dum). You should be able to do that once, very precisely. Then move on to a seven-beat roll: doubled-downstroke, upstroke, doubled-downstroke, upstroke, downstroke. And so on. This excerise will help you work on fine control. A second exercise is designed to help you learn how to put your rolls exactly where you want them. Play even four-beat measures, in sets of four. Once you've established a regular rhythm, play eight sets of four with a roll on the first beat of each set. Then switch the roll to the second beat of each set for eight sets; then to the third, the fourth, back to the first, etc.

The bodhrán is an accompaniment instrument in Irish traditional music, and the traditional method is to follow the music, i.e. match your rhythms to the those of the music. In order to follow the music, you need to learn the music; so get hold of a bunch of recordings and listen carefully. The better you know the tunes, the better you'll be able to play. Ideally, you should know the tune: You should be able to hum it or sing it or play it on a melody instrument. By knowing the tune, you'll be able to anticipate and match changes in the rhythm and pitch, phrase your rhythms to match melodic phrases, and help the melody player clarify the different parts of the tune and their repeats, instead of muddying the structure of the tune.

Listen to professional bodhrán players and pay attention to how they highlight and ornament the natural rhythms of tunes. Play along and try to do the same things. You may want to record yourself along with the music, and listen to it afterward; you'll be able to hear what you do well and what you do poorly.

Noise Control

Practicing any musical instrument can be hard on roommates, neighbors, and local wildlife; for some reason, people are particularly unsympathetic to the needs of a budding drummer. Practicing outside is always fun, but not always practical. The best solution is simply to learn to play quietly: It's a skill you'll want to develop anyway, and it will come in very handy when you find yourself at a session with too many drummers. People have found a variety of ingenious methods of reducing volume to spare your loved ones: Press the flat of your hand against the middle of the skin, or equivalently, stuff a towel, a legal pad, or a magazine under the crossbars, against the skin. Practice on a rubber drum pad held sideways; or use a large paperback book. I've even played a folded-up newspaper.

Playing with Real People

Once you think you're ready to play with other musicians, find a session in your area. Find out who is running the session, and introduce yourself. In my experience, most sessions will welcome a novice if he's polite. If there are other drummers, introduce yourself to them, too; you might even ask them to suggest when you should join in. Unless it is a very large session, more than one drummer playing at a time may not be welcome. At first, you may want to keep your volume low and keep the ornamentation to a minimum; give the other musicians a chance to recognize that you know what you're doing. Don't feel that you have to play with every tune, even if you're the only drummer at the session. When you're not playing, listen to the tunes. Pay attention to other rhythm instruments (e.g. guitar, keyboard), and listen for ornamentations used by the meoldy instruments. If there are other drummers, watch what they do; I still learn a lot by watching other peoples' styles.

At any session, you're likely to hear tunes that you don't know. You may choose to sit out those tunes or to improvise an accompaniment. If you do try to improvise, listen to one repeat of the tune before joining in, and try to figure out the large-scale structure of the tune. That's your template; everything you do should fit that structure.

Have a good time. Don't worry too much: Sessions are supposed to be relaxed and informal.