Percussion Instruments in Irish Music: Images


The emphasising of rhythm by the use of percussion instruments is not as usual in Irish traditional music as in many other forms of traditional music, probably because of the prominent part that melody plays in the Irish tradition. Nevertheless, percussion instruments are nowadays commonly enough employed in this music, in spite of resistance from some musicians, and even though they were little used in the past. A selection of images of percussion instruments as used for accompanying dance music or song is presented below from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

The commonest such percussion instrument played in the current tradition is the bodhran, a musical instrument now but once a useful multipurpose domestic container and utensil. In all its modern forms the bodhran has enjoyed a phenomonal growth in popularity during the last half-century (in both its noise-making and musical capacities), and this popularity has been paralleled by an astonishing development in the playing techniques brought to bear on the instrument. The bodhran naturally predominates among the images of percussion instruments reproduced below: players are seen playing it on the face and on the rim, by hand and by stick, manipulating the skin-sound by pressing on it, tuning it and singing to it.

Less often used are spoons and bones, and, since the decline of the ceili band, bass drums, snare drums and drum blocks. A gong makes a unique appearance, and our initial 19th-century newspaper image shows that any domestic implement that could make intimidating noises would be pressed into service for political purposes.

NC & TH, 1 December 2012

Percussion Instruments in Irish Music: Images