How to Make a Tongue Drum

By James Edward Kelley

Tongue drums (aka log drums or slit drums) are in the Idiophone instrument family. An idiophone is an instrument whose whole body vibrates when played. Another idiophone known to us all is the human voice, the oldest idiophone known today. The tongue drum also is of the lamellaphone family of instruments. Lamellaphones are instruments that produce sound when its tongue is depressed and released to create tones. Tongue drums were originally used in African and Asian societies in storytelling. Tongue drums also were used in those societies to produce war cries that would resonate over a vast amount of space.

Constructing the Tongue Drum

Purchase the hardwood from a local lumberyard. Have them cut and plane it for you. Use the hardwood as the top piece of the tongue drum.

Glue and nail the pieces together to create a 24-inch-by-8-inch-by-6-inch box. Use the two 8-inch-by-6-inch pieces of wood as the ends. Use the two 24-inch-by-6 inch pieces as the sides. Use the hardwood piece as the top and the other 24-inch-by-8 inch piece of wood as the bottom.

Pencil in three 14-inch lines and one 7-inch line on the hardwood top of the tongue drum. Leave 11/2 inches between each line. This will ultimately create 14 inches for the first two tongues, or keys, (9 inches and 5 inches in length), another 14 inches for a second set of tongues (8 inches and 6 inches in length) and a fifth 7-inch tongue.

Measure 9 inches on the first 14-inch line and mark a curve ending at the next 14-inch line facing one of the 8-inch-by-6-inch ends. Then mark a second curve opposite the curve marked at the 9-inch point facing the other 8-inch-by-6-inch end. Measure 8 inches on the next 14-inch line and mark a curve there going into the third 14-inch line facing one of the 8-inch-by-6-inch ends. Mark a curve opposite of the 8-inch mark facing the other 8-inch-by-6-inch end. At the end of the 7-inch line mark a curve ending at the third 14-inch line.

Drill four pilot holes, one on each side of of the curves facing one of the 8-inch-by-6-inch ends with one on the side of the 7-inch line curve facing the same 8-inch-by-6-inch end as the other drilled holes. Drill three pilot holes opposite the four already drilled, leaving the 7-inch line curve with only one pilot hole.

Follow the lines and curves with the electric jigsaw. After each tongue is made, wait until the jigsaw stops moving before applying the tool to the next tongue.

Purchase two Superballs at a toy store. Any size Superball will do, so feel free to pick the two prettiest Superballs in the bin.

Place one of the Superballs in a vice. Concentrate and drill a hole in the Superball about 2/3 of the way in. Do the same with the other Superball.

Round off with a carving knife one end of each dowel until they are rounded. Carve the other end of each dowel until you get a point.

Put as much Araldite glue in the hole of each Superball as possible. Concentrate and insert the pointed end of the dowel in the hole. Let each set for 20 minutes.

Tip

  1. Feel free to paint your tongue drum to your heart's content.

  2. Apply linseed oil to the hardwood top if a nice finish is desired.

About the Author

James Edward Kelley has been writing since 1987. Former Poet Laureate of Portugal, Jose Brites, is going to be publishing a book of Kelley's poetry, and his short story, "Cadeau's Finale," has been published on Slurvemag.com. Kelley won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright's Award for the first play he ever wrote, "A Venture into a Handicapped Person's Mind."