Someone once looked at an empty propane tank and said to themselves, “You know, I could probably play that,” and thus the steel tongue drum came into the world.
That holds some truth, as this instrument can be made from empty, no longer usable propane tanks, but the steel tongue drum origin and history of this unique instrument, although lacking in some aspects, is one of interest.
Inspired by similar instruments of both Swedish and African origin, that being the Hang (hang drum or commonly known as handpan) which is made of steel and a log drum which is made of hollow wood, the steel tongue drum was first introduced in 2007 by a man named Dennis Havlena.
The instrument has a hollow bell-like sound to it, and is often associated with meditative practices or relaxation techniques for the deep ringing is soothing to the mind.
It can be tuned in a number of different ways, most commonly in the pentatonic scale, and the sound of notes played vary depending upon the size of the slits in the steel, or the “tongues,” hence the name steel tongue drum.
Tone and tuning can also be changed by adding or taking away weighted magnets that attach to the tongues.
Its portability and versatility in both differing musical genres and the ability of a player to learn how to play it quickly make it a perfect inclusion in a percussion fanatic’s arsenal, along with someone just looking to try something new and fun!
While you can easily pick one up close to anywhere now, going the cheap route or getting the first one you see may not be the best option, as you risk playing with a carelessly made instrument that has an unpleasant sound.
Instead, look into some of these options and choose with the information provided from the best steel tongue drums on the market!
Oh, and a heads up! There may be some products that I recommend for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. All recommendations are genuine and/or verified by myself!
7 Best Steel Tongue Drums
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the different options out there, but this list will help you narrow down and pick the best steel tongue drum for you!
With an eight-note range, a travel bag, included mallets, and the ability to be played with either sticks or fingers, the Asmuse Steel Tongue Drum is a great option for both beginner players and the more conditioned person.
The pre-tuned scale is that of a C major pentatonic scale, and although common in sound, the tone can be described as nothing other than gorgeous.
The color is bright, but dull at the same time, thus it is easy on the eyes but also suiting for the beauty seeker, as the bronze polish is almost gold-like.
The drum has no fancy additions in terms of tongue shape or build, making it easy to learn and handle, and with numbered stickers as an added option for the tongues, learning the notes and tones of the drum just got a whole lot simpler.
Pros: Simple design, color is great for home decor, fantastic sound.
Cons: One color option, a bit pricey for a beginner.
This is a great option for all levels, as it not only has note ranges that make a pleasant-sounding tone, but the color options are playful and vary per drum.
Most steel tongue drums have a note range of eight or eleven, and while you can’t beat the traditional sound, this slight increase in range gives the drum a unique set of notes the player can experiment with.
Scale options are different depending on the drum chosen, with scales to choose from such as the C Lydian Scale, which includes whole tones and semitones ( C D E F# G A B ), G major (G A B C D E F#), and others.
If you’re looking for a drum that gives you a fantastic tone, and one that is in it for the long practicing sessions, then check out the Pearl 9 Note.
Pros: Great tone, 9 note range, color options vary.
Cons: Expensive, the scale cannot be altered.
Measuring at only 5.5 inches in diameter, this mini tongue drum offers a note range of eight, a beautiful sound, and is one of the best gifts for a younger player or for someone who wishes to have a more portable instrument at the ready.
A carrier bag, along with mallets, is included, and the addition of mallets means no special learning is needed for adapting to playing with your hands and fingers, so you can get right to playing!
The note range is optimal for a beginner, as it lowers the options of notes able to be performed, without taking away the rich tones of the drum. Sometimes an eleven-note range can be somewhat overwhelming.
Pros: Extremely portable and affordable when compared to other drums.
Cons: Small, eight note range, only two color options available.
This is the perfect steel tongue drum for someone looking for an intricate design on the face. The designs range from large central flowers to more complex patterns and shapes. All of which coincides with the placement of the tongues, but taking nothing away from the sound.
The sound of this tongue drum is louder than others on the market and the notes are able to be sustained longer and maintain a richer tone, suitable for both indoor and outdoor playing.
It can be played with your hands and fingers using a variety of different placements, as well as with mallets for a bolder, resonating sound.
With a travel bag included, a beautiful design to go along with even better tones, this is the preferred product for the person inspired by both art and musical patterns!
Pros: Beautiful design options, bold tones, good size.
Cons: Pricey, recommended for a more practiced player.
The friend of the wallet, this mini tongue drum is small but is not lacking in a quality sound.
The sleek black finish, numbered tongues, and a carrier bag with included mallets makes for an easy to learn, very portable instrument so you can bring the music where you go.
The eight tongues are tuned in C major which is an easy, adaptable scale to master and learn from as it is one of the most widely used combinations in music.
Great for beginners, kids, or any age, this steel tongue drum will give you the relaxing sound of this unique instrument at a price that you can afford.
Pros: Great sound, affordable, very portable.
Cons: Might be too small for adults.
I decided to place this one on the lower end of my best steel tongue drums list, not because of its sound quality, but more so because of the advanced features it comes with not being necessarily suitable for the novice or even intermediate player.
It’s definitely great for the experimental player, or someone who wants to have a steel tongue drum that can change tone upon simple adjustments by the player.
With all the variables that come with this drum, that being the color choices, sizes, and ability to tune on your own, this steel tongue drum is a great option if you want total control.
If you want to dive a little deeper into this musical instrument and try out different sounds, then give this a go, but I would not recommend this steel tongue drum for beginners.
Pros: Tunable, comes in different sizes, great sound.
Cons: Might be overwhelming to some new players.
This is a tongue drum to be bought with careful consideration, as it is the largest on the list in both size and note range.
Measuring in at thirteen inches in diameter, and equipped with a fifteen note range, this steel tongue drum is definitely for the more experienced player.
The color options come in beautiful deep hues of red, purple, blue, and black and can be played with both hands and mallets, thus it not only has a wide range of notes but is versatile in playing ability.
I only say it isn’t for the faint of heart because of it being a more pricey drum, along with its available note range, which may be confusing to the new player. It is worth the buy though if you’re looking for something new, or something that will last you a long while!
Pros: Strong build, beautiful color options, superb sound, and playing versatility.
Cons: Large in size.
Choosing the best Steel Tongue Drum – The Ultimate Buying Guide
All of the above steel tongue drums are fantastic options if you’re looking for a new instrument. Of course, some are much more suitable for beginners and some for more conditioned players.
How do you decide, then, what drum will work for your specific needs?
This is actually extremely easy to determine once you understand the basics of a steel tongue drum.
The overall dimensions and weight of the drum determine if it is suitable for children, or if you’re looking for an instrument you can carry around easily in a backpack or small bag of sorts.
The smaller the drum, the easier it is to take with you, which is especially useful when traveling or simply cycling to the park to play outside! They’re also great to give to younger kids to keep them busy.
For a small, portable, and budget-friendly drum, the Flatsons Steel Tongue Drum is perfect (and Amazon’s choice).
If you’re just starting out, the notes and musical scales that come with the drum are necessary things to consider. A drum with a common scale (such as C or G major) will be easier to adapt to when compared to a scale like the C Lydian scale, which is no less beautiful sounding, but less common.
The number of notes also determines how easy it will be for the player to adapt to this instrument. I would recommend that a beginner player get an eight-note steel tongue drum instead of an eleven or thirteen. My favorite of the 8 note options is the Amuse Steel Tongue Drum, the sound is absolutely beautiful and mesmerizing.
The final few things to keep in mind is the drum’s versatile nature, as in, can it be played with mallets, or is it nice enough in design and color that it can easily blend in with other home decor instead of sticking out in the living room!
If you want a wonderful sounding drum that will also look good in the living, you can’t go wrong with the GUDA DRUM Freezebee and its stunning hand-engraved design.
When buying a steel tongue drum, keep in mind who will be playing and their experience level, as a younger player should use a smaller drum, as can an adult, but an older player may enjoy a larger in size drum.
I wouldn’t recommend a drum with too many notes or an uncommon scale unless you have been playing for some time and wish to experiment with a new sound.
If you are an aficionado or up for a challenge, the Idiopan Domina 12-Inch Tunable Steel Tongue Drum produces incredible deep resonating tones that other models fail to replicate. It’s also one of Amazon’s Choices and receives a solid 5-star rating.
Beginners should opt for smaller note ranges and simpler musical scales for a more pleasant experience. Lastly, consider design and color, and if it is something you want to continuously look at or if you’ll become tired of its appearance.
My Final Thoughts on the Steel Tongue Drum
This unique instrument is perfect for anyone, whether musically inclined or simply wishing to try something out that is both new in sound and playing ability.
It is important to note that there are certain qualities in steel tongue drums that set them apart from one another, and buying the first one that comes into sight won’t always be the best option for your needs.
Steel tongue drums that are both small in size and note ranges are ideal for beginners or younger children, as they are portable and easier to learn and manage. Most small drums are also fit to be played with both hands and mallets, and the scales that they are tuned to are common in nature and can be easily recognized.
If you are looking into more experimental playing, getting a steel tongue drum that is larger, intricate in design, or even tunable is the route to go, as they are usually richer in tone and will be suited for the more advanced or experienced player.
The benefits of playing this instrument range from increased feelings of serenity and relaxation to finding new rhythms and tones to go with a varying number of musical genres.
The most important thing to remember through all of this though is that it should be a fun experience and shouldn’t be something to stress over, as music is something that should be enjoyed and a steel tongue drum is only one of many ways to communicate this universal language.
Happy drumming! – Will
As always, feel free to drop me a message in the comments if you have any other questions!