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Left Hand Tonal Control

From bowiki

See Also Left Hand Blade

The relationship of the bodhran player's left hand to the sound is akin to that of the mouth to the voice. It is used to shape and moulds the quality of the sound that we hear.

A lot of attention historically has been paid to the right hand sticking / rhythmic techniques yet not so many words have been given over to the tonal and more musical elements of the drum that arise from the left hand.

In an article on the Left Hand Blade, it was noted that it was worth paying attention to the 'quality' of tone that your left hand generates on the skin, in many cases players are over-muting the sound of the drum.

There are two basic ways of changing pitch / tone on the drum.

  • Pressure
  • Skin area reduction

These are often used together and can achieve the same basic pitch objective independently. There is a difference in the sound however.

A tone that is raised in pitch using the smaller skin area approach will also lose volume due to a reduction in the vibrating surface area and also will lose tone sustain due to the physical reduction in scale. The extreme of this is the characteristic top end 'Pop' which is almost all attack and a very short tone. Basically the sound gets 'drier' as the skin area decreases

A tone that is raised in pitch using pressure-alone retains that same vibrating surface area and does not sacrifice volume, the retention of tonal vibration adds to the fullness of the drum sound. Basically it has tone. Clearly there are limits to pressure in any one place but a 'left hand pressure player' will have a number of tonal stations on the drum to achieve all but the most extreme sounds and still maintain tone in the drum as far as the skin allows.

Because of the tonal differences it is usually recommended to never play an open skin. A lowest note could have a left hand pinky and 2 fingers placed between the bearing edge and the skin, this provides the timbre of a hand on skin with the low frequency tone required. The little bit of pressure helps maintain tone in the drum and counters the flat slap of an open skin.

From that basic position various can be achieved by rolling the edge (blade) of my left hand from pinky to the outer heel of my palm as one movement. A second movement is to use the heel of the hand and applying pressure as well as rolling from outer to inner wrist, the natural finish for this move is for the thumb to come into contact with the skin and create a new bearing edge.

Basic high & low tones come from this basic rotational movement from the blade (low) to the thumb (high) as bearing edge. A wide variety of tones are available by combining this hand movement with different amounts pf pressure and it provides for an efficient left hand rather than the great distances covered by change-the-skin-area players..

There are many discussions, propositions and personal preferences as to appropriate positioning and activity of the left hand. It is worth noting that any motion on the left hand may cause sound by rubbing over the skin.

Some listening and watching as well as a good amount of experimentation will give you a reasonable range of left hand activities to select from. Some you will use all the time, some occasionally, some almost never.

There is nothing like really getting to know your drum's voices, experiment, be intimate. It is an act of Artful Seduction after all!

  • Do nothing
    • Just leave it open and boomy - a traditional style - not often used
  • Muting
    • Using the left hand to kill the resonance of the open skin this is the basis for tonal variance
  • Changing pitch
    • Using the left hand to change the size of the vibrating area of the drum and thereby the pitch. This also changes the sound of the drum and gives a shorter sustain
    • Using the left hand to apply greater or lesser pressure to the drumhead and therefore adjust pitch up or down respectively. This maintains tone and sustain in the drum
  • Bending pitch
    • Moving the heel of the hand to slide a bass note upwards. Indian tabla style
    • Rocking the heel of the hand to increase pressure & reduce skin area
  • Bass lines, Tonal Play, Melodies
    • Using pitch changing techniques to play pitch-specific patterns to match/complement the tune being played by other musicians
  • Harmonics
    • Using the point of the finger at different points on the head to isolate a particular frequency when struck
  • Pops
    • making a very small area of drum head in the triangle between your index finger and thumb at the top of the drum that is hit with the tipper - commonly associated with the style known as 'top end'
  • Finger drumming
    • As the name suggests, bringing all kinds of middle eastern or roll variations. Usually with the Inside Hand
    • using the flat of the hand to slap against the back of the skin
    • Thumb rolls - Old tambourine players trick, emits a groaning sound. (You don't need to be an old tambourine player or play an old tambourine tho' :)
  • Use your own imagination.... :)
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