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Vikings:War of Clans

Viking musical instruments. Part 4. Percussion instruments

In the previous article, we told you about a Viking plucked string instrument, the lyre. We’re now going to be discussing Viking drums, namely, what people made them from, and how they played them.

The drum is an ancient musical instrument. People have played drums throughout history and all over the world, including in Scandinavia during the Viking epoch. Scientists believe that Viking drums looked like the shaman tambourines of the Sámi people.

Shaman drum

Shaman tambourine

The Vikings crafted this kind of shaman drum using a wooden hoop and a membrane.

Craftsmen soaked pieces of wood for the hoop in water for a week in order to make them more flexible. They then bent them to shape and held them above a fire. Once the wood had taken the form of a ring, its ends were connected together with a piece of metal or hide.

Over the hoop, the Viking craftsmen would stretch a membrane – the hide of a horse, goat, bull, bear, or another animal. They then decorated this membrane with paintings, embroidery, or amulets.

Small tambourines of 30 cm in diameter had a higher pitch, while larger tambourines sounded deeper and mellower. People played the instrument with their hand or a mallet that they covered with fur so that the mallet would not damage the membrane.

If the membrane deformed because of high humidity, the sound worsened. In this case, people dried the tambourine over a fire so that the membrane would stretch over the hoop tightly once again.

The Northmen of the Viking epoch played the shaman drum alone during religious ceremonies or in an ensemble together with string, woodwind, or other percussion instruments. The latter included clappers, bells, and rattles and were used for protection against evil spirits.

Viking folk music

This is the last article in our series about Viking musical instruments. You can read the previous parts if you missed them:

Earlier we also posted an article about Viking music, in which we told you about skalds and Viking songs.

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