You're sitting in the local pub enjoying a pint. From a dark corner of the room comes the sound of a fiddle. Next, a whistle joins in with its high, clear, shivering tone. You listen for a while to the jigs and reels when suddenly the mood takes a turn. A deep, exciting 'thrum-thrum' moves like a heartbeat in time with the music, adding spins and twirls of rhythm that both support and complement the melody. It's an ominous, exciting sound which takes the music to a higher level and you soon find you are tapping your feet as you listen.
This is the sound of the bodhran (pronounced bo-ron): the vital pulse of Celtic music. The drum itself looks fairly plain - a shallow wooden frame about eighteen inches in diameter with a single head made of goatskin. Despite its simple design the instrument is quite versatile. At times its tone can be low and foreboding and at other times high and lively. By using a double-headed beater, impressively complex rhythms can be produced with one hand, leaving the other hand free to add tonal expression by muting and applying tension to the inside surface of the skin (see diagram below - Anatomy of the Bodhran).
Making a bodhran is something that anyone with a little patience and perseverance can do. Prior to making my first bodhran I had no real carpentry experience (other than grade nine shop class). The only other instruments I had ever made were the bones and a few bodhran beaters . Although I had been a fan of Celtic music for many years, I hadn't really had much experience with the bodhran. I did however have a desire to learn the instrument and so when I met up with a friend who had a lot of power tools and a similar passion for Celtic music we decided make some bodhrans. It was almost impossible to find any literature on the subject so we examined another friend's bodhran to see what we could learn about its construction and devised our own procedure. Here is a step-by-step account of what we did.
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