Tongue Drum

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Project by BlueRocco posted 03-29-2009 06:32 AM 42671 views 59 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Here is a tongue drum I finished not too long ago. It is made of Oak and Purpleheart. Fantastic tone from this. I have it tuned to a Bb pentatonic scale. It took me quite a bit of research to find out how to calculate the relative length of the tongues and how to adjust the tuning for them. I now have a proportioned drawing that I can scale up or down to change the pitch. I used an Incra jig to make the box joints, My router to rabbit the bottom. It took almost two hours to scroll saw the top … both sides of each line. I ended up with a continuous piece of wood that came out of the top for the tongue outlines. The sun I carved in by hand and I drilled three star holes so I would have some place to store the mallets. I made the mallets out of a couple of piece of 1/4” oak dowel and two supper balls. It is finished with poly. After It dried for three days and got really hard, I buffed it with the Beale buffing system. Love that buffing system, I use it on just about everything I do.

Hello again, As far as I know, this is NOT a North American Native American Instrument. I believe what I read was that the Aztecs first started using log drums made like this. And there is some similarity to some African log drums as well. I noticed there were some inquiries as to a pattern/blog for this drum. I did a presentation for my local wood working club and put together a hand out for it. Here is a copy of the handout. I used a 17×11 piece of paper to do a full scale print out. Hopefully some of you can download this and print it out to scale. Have Fun!

-- Micheal, Boise, Id

16 comments so far

View lclashley's profile


244 posts in 5451 days

#1 posted 03-29-2009 06:42 AM

Very Cool Micheal! I’d love to hear it.

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BigFoot Products Canada

711 posts in 4730 days

#2 posted 03-29-2009 12:49 PM

Neet.. Who uses those? Is that a native instrument?

View Terry's profile


211 posts in 4971 days

#3 posted 03-29-2009 03:24 PM

Michael that is very very nice. I love the carved sun sound hole. I have a grand daughter that would love one. Would you share your pattern?

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4074 posts in 5401 days

#4 posted 03-29-2009 05:26 PM

Way sweet! If you’re sharing your pattern or blogging the process, I’d like to know too!

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View a1Jim's profile


118309 posts in 4914 days

#5 posted 03-29-2009 05:47 PM

Nice work I understand paydauk has great tonal qualities also.



View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5498 days

#6 posted 03-30-2009 12:09 AM


-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View BlueRocco's profile


49 posts in 4685 days

#7 posted 03-30-2009 06:19 AM

Thanks for all the kind words. I edited the project. Added the design sheet that I used. If you can capture the picture and print it out to scale, you should just glue it to a piece of wood and cut it out. The dashed lines represent the interior lines of the box below. Make it as deep as you like, it should be 4” or deeper. I also found that if I used felt circles for feet, I could get a better sound out of it. If you put hard feet on the drum box, if jumps around on the table and makes a terrible noise:)

-- Micheal, Boise, Id

View pinkfish's profile


173 posts in 5008 days

#8 posted 03-31-2009 01:23 AM

What sort of research did you do on lengths and tuning? I would be interested to know so as to figure out how to tune/change the design?

View BlueRocco's profile


49 posts in 4685 days

#9 posted 03-31-2009 01:58 AM

Ok, Here you go for length and tuning I found this to be the best information I could find;
The width doesn’t have much effect, but the thickness and length do. Removing wood from the tip of the tongue makes the pitch higher, from the base of the tongue makes it lower. If you want to get a close to a particular tuning before tuning the thickness, you can calculate the lengths. Every 3% increase in length makes the tone lower by one semitone. So to get a pentatonic scale, you make six bars by multiplying the length of the longest by the following percentages: 94, 87, 82, 77, 71. Alternatively you can work out how long the middle pair of bars will be, halve it, and multiply that by these percentages: 84, 89, 97, 103, 109, 119. Then build the three pairs as 84&119, 89&109, 97&103, and tune it by removing wood from underneath. For a vibrating string it’s about 6%, but vibrating bars don’t work like that. This answer is theoretical only but should work. The length of the tongue should determine the pitch produced so first thing is to both determine the pitch you want and find something like a tuning fork, piano, synthesizer or oscilator which can produce it at will. Then make a single tongue and see how its pitch compares to you source pitch. Just keep cutting bits off till you get it right. Measure the length of this tongue. Now a tongue twice as long should have a fundamental frequency half that of your first tongue or an octave below. Now you have the information you need to convert length to pitch. You will have to visit the Internet to find the intervals in the western music system because the 12 notes in western music are not linear steps like the 21 in Indian or Asian music. Then all you need do is convert musical intervals to mm and cut away.
Hope this helps.

-- Micheal, Boise, Id

View cabinetmaster's profile


10873 posts in 4895 days

#10 posted 03-31-2009 02:06 AM

COOOOOOOOOL. My grandkids would love this.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

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Dennis Zongker

2864 posts in 4929 days

#11 posted 04-04-2009 09:10 PM


-- Dennis Zongker

View mcoyfrog's profile


4757 posts in 4931 days

#12 posted 04-17-2009 02:32 AM

I love this, Me and my son just made some and they sound sooooooo cool i can play for hours…

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

View johnpoolesc's profile


246 posts in 4697 days

#13 posted 04-17-2009 02:36 AM

that is way cool, but how do you play it with your tounge?

-- It's not a sickness, i can stop buying tools anytime.

View oldironleather's profile


1 post in 4540 days

#14 posted 08-19-2009 02:12 AM

That’s really nice.
There’s a guy that’s been doing these forever who has plans and templates available.
Magical tongue drums, with all the tricks to get the cool harmonic tones and all that.
Dialing in the sound can be tricky, and this is the key to the kingdom.
Check out

View 6strings's profile


2 posts in 4311 days

#15 posted 04-05-2010 04:15 PM

Hi -
I am new here – I was wondering if anyone got a copy of this plan ?

“here is a copy of the handout. I used a 17×11 piece of paper to do a full scale print out. Hopefully some of you can download this and print it out to scale. Have Fun!”

Thanks !!

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