Despite being called a “drum,” the steel tongue drum produces a beautiful, bell-like sound and can be played like any other melodic instrument.
You can play a wide range of songs from almost any musical style or genre on the instrument, depending on how your drum is tuned. But how do you learn, and how do you find songs to play on steel tongue drum? Let’s find out!
Do You Need to Be Able to Read Music to Play the Steel Tongue Drum?
Depending on the style and type of music you want to play, it is not always necessary to read music to play songs on the steel tongue drum.
Because these instruments are tuned together to the same scale, all the notes sound good when played separately or together, and you don’t need to learn specific hand positions to produce pleasing sounds. It’s easy to improvise and make the sounds you like.
However, if you want to play written music, it can help to know the notes and play them appropriately.
Many beginner steel tongue drums come with note or number stickers, so you can label the tongues and know which notes they produce. This makes it easy to practice scales, chords, and play your favorite songs.
Many beginner steel tongue drums also come with songs and instructions to get you started with simple songs.
How to Begin Playing Songs on a Steel Tongue Drum
If you don’t have notes or numbers on your steel tongue drum, you can use a tuning app or your ear to determine the notes on your steel tongue drum.
Generally speaking, if your steel tongue drum is tuned to a C major scale, the numbers and notes are as follows:
- 1 = C
- 2 = D
- 3 = E
- 4 = F
- 5 = G
- 6 = A
- 7 = B
For simple songs, you can often find numbers or notes listed online for your favorite songs. The most important thing is knowing how your steel tongue drum is tuned and finding the songs written for your instrument’s sound.
How to Find Songs to Play on a Steel Tongue Drum
There are several ways to find songs to play on a steel tongue drum. Here are some of the easiest:
You can search for sheet music or songs with the notes written as numbers to correspond with your steel tongue drum. There are printable pdf documents, along with images and diagrams, to help you learn to play songs on the steel tongue drum.
Buy a Songbook
There are millions of songbooks available covering every type of music and any song you want to learn. These songbooks are available at music stores, online retailers, and often from the manufacturer of your drum itself. You can check out one I arranged here.
For visual learners, watching video demonstrations and tutorials is a great way to learn new songs. There are dozens of YouTube channels designed to teach you how to play songs on a steel tongue drum, with play-along tutorials and in-depth explanations.
There are many steel tongue drum lesson options, whether you want one-on-one instruction or want to follow along with an existing lesson plan.
Classes may make it easier to master more challenging skills on the steel tongue drum, so you can play chords, drumming patterns and use your instrument to the fullest.
Taking lessons is also a great way to start with the right skills and techniques, so you don’t build bad habits that will later be difficult to break when you want to play with more sophistication and complexity.
Find the Music For Your Favorite Songs
There are many apps and websites that will allow you to simply purchase the sheet music for your favorite songs. This can be a great way to engage with the instrument right away, as you learn by playing the songs you already know and like.
Seek Inspiration in a Community
The steel tongue drum is an incredibly popular instrument worldwide, so many online forums and discussion groups exist. Other players can share tips and tricks, teach you their favorite songs, and answer tough questions.
If you don’t have live steel tongue drum musicians in your area, you can always find a thriving community to connect with online.
The steel tongue drum is played from the Far East to the Midwest and part of a vast range of musical styles and traditions. This means that your opportunity to find and play songs on the steel tongue drum is nearly endless, and it opens up a whole world of musical education and experiences.
With so many resources and ideas, you’ll be playing your favorite songs in no time.