The steel tongue drum is a relatively new instrument from the idiophone family of percussion. This means its unique sound is produced from the vibration of the drum itself. This instrument was inspired by other percussion instruments, like the slit drum, hang drum, tamburo, and whale drum.
These drums may look like UFOs, but the only thing that’s out of this world is the music they make! You may have heard this sound at a yoga or meditation class. They’re even used for sound therapy. They can be used by anyone ready for emotional healing and anxiety or stress relief. You may want to try these for yourself and see if they will make you more relaxed!
However, steel tongue drums are unique instruments that require special considerations before purchasing. We tested over 30 steel tongue drum models on the market today — here’s what you need to know before you buy.
The History of Steel Tongue Drums
Like most musical instruments, the steel tongue drum has evolved throughout time. The idiophone family consists of some of the oldest types of musical instruments found in archaeological quests.
Ancestors across Oceania, Southeast Asia, and Africa carved “slit drums” out of wood or bamboo thousands of years ago. These “slit drums” look like a box with one or more openings across the top. These are the oldest ancestors of the tongue drum, traceable to instruments like the Aztec teponaztil and African log drum.
In 2007, the creator of the steel tongue drum, Dennis Havlena, removed the bottom of a propane tank and designed a circular cross pattern where he cut “tongues” in a radial design. The bottom of the tank became the top of the drum, and thus the steel tongue drum was born.
What’s Special About Steel Tongue Drums?
Before you buy, you need to understand what makes this instrument so unique. Here’s what people love most about these drums based on steel tongue drum reviews.
The name of the drum derives from those radial cutouts, the tongues. The tongues work like the strings of a guitar or piano keys. They are individual parts used to create a melodic whole.
Each tongue produces a specific note. The width, length, and weight of each tongue will determine the pitch and sound of that note. To play, you strike the tongue with your hands, mallet, or fingers. The drum then vibrates, amplifies the sound, and releases it through the tongue slits.
By mixing and matching chords and notes, you create beautiful melodies. The best part is that you do not need extensive musical knowledge or training to learn this instrument. So, it will be easy to find the best steel tongue drum for beginners.
A steel tongue drum is often made with 8/9 notes. There are various scale choices, which comes down to personal preference.
Smaller versions of the drum will have fewer notes available based on their size. These drums are also harder to play with fingers because they require greater accuracy and a slightly harder strike to get the right sound. Smaller drums are often best played with mallets to hit the right note.
The steel tongue drum has quite a few scales available, although it is not endless. There are a limited number of scales on each drum, but each style of drum and sound offers lengthened scale options.
For example, a 9 note version of a tongue drum can have up to 33 scale configuration options.
How to Choose the Best Steel Tongue Drums
Now, the real question is, how do you choose between the many options out there? The best way is to listen. Listen to all the steel tongue drum scales you can. We also recommend reading several steel tongue drum reviews to gauge how easy the one you’re considering is to play.
This is not a short and simple decision-making process. As outlined above, there are multiple scale options, sizes, and playing options. Sometimes the differences are subtle, so you have to take your time to figure out the best steel tongue drum for beginners.
Here are several factors to help you with your search.
Scale It Right
Major scales will be uplifting and happy, and minor scales tend to be thoughtful, sad, and a little dark. There’s your first turning point — are you looking to make happy or wistful music?
- Major scales, like a C major, are more happy, uplifting, and cheerful.
- Sharp/minor scales, like a C sharp, are sad, pensive, dark, and melancholy.
- The F integral scale gives an aura of mysticism.
- Akebono scale comes from Japan for a more zen or meditative tone.
Price It Right
Budget will often be another determinative factor. If you are a beginner, you can enter with a beginner-friendly drum at around $100. Top-of-the-line Rav Vast drums will clock in towards $1000.
Other factors affecting prices will be scale, size, and quality. As the demand for these instruments increases, the price will continue to grow and reflect that.
Play It Right
Another factor to consider before buying is just how you plan on playing. Generally, these drums are played with mallets, fingers, or hands.
When you play with your fingers or hands, people typically feel more connected to the instrument. Most steel tongue drum reviews say it’s best to give yourself options when playing. You want a drum that you can play by combining fingers, palms, and hands.
When you play with mallets, you have the ability to try different types of mallet heads to expand the sound range. The important thing to know is that you do not play with mallets as you do with drumsticks. You do not bash the steel tongues heavily unless you plan to buy a new drum soon. Instead, you use controlled, moderate strikes to produce the ideal mix of notes.
The Bottom Line
Steel tongue drums are ideal for yoga, meditation, or emotional healing. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for the best steel tongue drum for beginners, hobbyists, or professionals; this instrument is ideal for boosting focus, unlock creativity, and rising above stress and anxiety.
Overall, there isn’t one type of steel tongue drum that’s best. Remember to consider playing style, price, and scale before purchasing the first steel tongue drum you see online.
We recommend reading more steel tongue drum reviews from other players to get a sense of the best model for you.