Sunday, December 7, 2008

Caring for Your Healing Drum | BYBS

Once you have a drum, you need to know how to care for it properly. Even synthetic drums require some care. Proper care can vastly extend a drum's useful life. 

Heat Can Kill Your Drum

Leaving a drum in the car is a great way to ruin it. Heat can cause the skin of a natural drum to tighten so much that it bursts. Djembes and other drums that are headed with goatskin under high tension are expecially susceptible.

As heat causes the skin to tighten, the extreme pressure can cause the frame of the drum to warp. That can ruin a frame drum or hoop drum. 

If the hoop is made of jointed wood (instead of all one piece) or of soft wood, the frame can break, ruining the drum completely.

Think of the dangers of leaving small children and animals in cars for just a few minutes. Leaving a drum in the car is also a very bad idea.

High Humidity Loosens Drum Heads

High humidity can cause drum heads to become looser (though still under tension), so that they sound terrible. Very high humidity over a few hours or days can cause the drum to slacken enough to lose the harmonic overtone and undertone sounds that are often used in healing. In other words, the drum sounds flat.

You have probably seen people with hoop drums, holding them over heat sources or warming them with a hair dryer to tighten them. That is why they do it. 

Note that if you have to constantly tighten your drum, either it was not strung tightly enough to begin with, or it may have been made in a dryer environment and not intended for the level of humidity where you live. Drums made in Taos, for example, will probably not be strung tightly enough for Seattle or Singapore.

For short-term humidity problems, one remedy is to keep your drum in a container, so that the humidity has less effect. At least, the drum has more time to adjust. In some cases, quick humidity changes will not affect your drum at all.

For example, if you do not have air conditioning, but you keep you drum in a plastic container, such as a Christmas tree skirt storage box, a brief thunderstorm will likely not affect your drum at all.

Low Humidity Can Cause Splits

Low humidity can be just as dangerous to your drum as moisture. If you take a drum that is tightly strung enough to be used in a humid environment, such as a coastal area, and move it to a desert environment, your drumhead may tighten so much that it splits.

Even in a moderately humid area, storing a drum in a dry upstairs closet or on the wall during the winter can be just like taking it to the desert if you use central heat all winter. Central heat sometimes lowers the humidity in your home until it is even dryer than a desert.

You might need to keep your drum in a plastic container and mist it occasionally so that it does not split in the extremely low humidity.

The lesson here is to buy a drum that was made in your geographical area in the same conditions in which you will store and use it.

Getting Wet Can Be Fatal to Drum Heads

Getting a drum head wet can cause it to split even without being played. Only a few drops, if not wiped off instantly, can destroy a djembe head. The skin is just so thin and under such high tension, and the liquid weakens the skin very quickly, causing it to split. 

Djembes and similar drums with thin heads laced to a high tension must have the pressure relieved immediately if they get wet. If you wipe off the liquid right away, and it is more than a drop or two, you must immediately loosen the drum lacing to lower the tension on the head while the skin dries. Once the head is completely dry, you can retighten the lacings and tune the drum.

Generally frame drums and hoop drums that are laced onto their frame (not tacked or glued), are not in so much danger. Native American drums in particular are usually made of stronger hides. If you wipe them off immediately and keep them from drying out too fast, they should be OK.  

Do NOT try to loosen the rawhide laces on a frame drum or hoop drum unless you are a drum-maker! Unless you know exactly what you are doing, the drum will be ruined. 


When transporting drums it is always best to put them in a case or container of some sort, especially if you have to carry them on foot or in an open vehicle. Even a large, heavy duty trashbag can protect your drum from rain or spills.

Parties and Public Gatherings

Beware at parties, drum circles and other events that most people do not realize how fragile drum heads are. They have no idea that a little spill can fracture your drum head. So be careful where you put your drum. 

Don't leave your drum unattended even for a few minute. Some people will thoughtlessly set a drink or heavy object on top of a drum! So beware. It is best to cover the head of the drum while you take a break.

Even synthetic drum heads need to be protected from getting wet. While Remo and other synthetic heads are great for use in humid, even damp environments. they are not made to actually get wet. They need cases, and don't try to play them in the rain.

Sharp or Abrasive Objects

Sharp objects are the enemies of drums. But objects that you might not think of as sharp can also damage drums. 

Never wear a ring, bracelet, or watch while playing a hand drum such as a djembe. Even a smooth ring intensifies the pressure on a small area and can break the drum head, especially if there is any weakness in the skin already.

A bracelet or watch can easily puncture or cut the drum head when you hit a base note (hitting with flat palm in the center of the drum head). Never risk that, especially if the drum is not your own.

That is another reason not to leave your drum unattended at parties or public events. Someone who knows nothing about drums may start playing it while you are gone, without removing their rings or bracelets---and damage the drum head. I have had it happen.

Avoid Any Pressure on Head

Be careful, when you store and transport drums, that nothing can press on the head. Loads shift in transport, and the drum may roll or fall against something that will stretch the head. That can sometimes be fixed, but other times it can cause a rupture.

That's why a hard container, such as a smooth plastic box for a frame drum or hoop drum, or a case with a hard top for a djembe, is best.

Do I have to say it? Never, never ever use a drum as a table. Even setting something on the drum for a moment can result in damage that will split the head. 

Good Care Pays Off

No drum will last forever. In traditional societies, a good drum may last for the life of one drummer, but the drum head may have been changed many times. 

Hoop drums, if headed with strong skins such as buffalo, should last much longer. Traditionally they were not reheaded if they did break. A new drum was made instead.

Djembes and other heavy African drums with thin heads are another matter. The hardwood base may last for centuries. 

The head and its lacing cord of such drums can be replaced many times without affecting the base as long as the wood is protected from insects, excessive moisture and heat. And because the hardwood base is hand-shaped from a single piece of wood, it is well worth the cost of reheading.

Metaphysical Drum Care

If you use drumming or other sound for healing, you probably know the importance of intention and vibration, the metaphysics of healing. If so, you will understand that the spiritual environment in which you play and store your drum is important, too.

Sometimes you have to take your drum into a negative environment in order to do healing. If so, be sure to spiritually cleanse the drum afterward.

Drums that will be used in healing should not be taken into negative environments just for fun. Avoid taking drums to parties or other events where people are drunk or drugging or have destructive, ridiculing attitudes toward others. You do not want those vibes in a drum that will be used for healing.

If you are a professional musician, and you need to play at such events, it is best to get drums that you use only for that purpose, and leave your healing drums at home.

I know that playing music can have an emotionally healing effect on a crowd, and that is good. But that is not what I'm referring to. 

If you are a healer, you know what I mean, even if you have not thought about it. If you use sound for healing, it is good to be aware of the spiritual vibes in the tools that you use for healing. 

Such awareness, like the ability to use drumming for healing, is a blessing.

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