Slit Drums

A slit drum is a hollow percussion instrument. In spite of the name, it is not a true drum but an idiophone, usually carved or constructed from bamboo or wood into a box with one or more slits in the top. Most slit drums have one slit, though two and three slits [cut into the shape of an “H”] occur.

If the resultant tongues are different width or thicknesses, the drum will produce two different pitches. It is used throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. In Africa such drums, strategically situated for optimal acoustic transmission e.g., along a river or valley, have been used for long-distance communication.

The closed ends of a slit drum form the shell which becomes the slit drum when the instrument is struck, usually with a mallet. The volume increases inside the resonance chamber when the sound is produced by the tongue through an open port.

If the instrument is in the correct proportions from tongue to body. The tongue drum will have the correct volume of airspace to complete one full sound wave for that particular pitch, the instrument will be more efficient and louder.

The people of Vanuatu cut a large log with “totem” type carvings on the outer surface and hollow out the center leaving only a slit down the front. This hollowed out log gives the deep resonance of drums when hit on the outside with sticks.

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