Homemade African Instrument

Updated July 20, 2017

There are an astounding variety of African instruments. There are many types of drums in Africa, from box drums to wooden drums with goatskin heads to large gourd drums. Aside from drums, you can find flutes, rasps, xylophones and many types of stringed lutes in Africa. You can make both rasps and drums using materials available in your own locality.

Making an Oil Barrel Drum

Use an oil barrel to make a large drum called a dunun. Unwanted oil barrels can often be found at auto repair shops. A 50-gallon barrel will produce a deep, resonant sound.

Clean out the barrel thoroughly, then cut the bottom out of the barrel with metal shears. Real animal hide, such as deerskin, is best, but if you cannot find animal hides, synthetic ones are available online and in some fabric stores. You will need two round pieces about 4 in. larger than the diameter of the barrel. Soak the skins in water and place on a flat board. Using an awl, pierce an even number of holes every inch around the skins, about 2 in. from the edge of the skin.

Lay one skin over each open end of the oil barrel. String climbing rope from the top skin to the bottom skin, threading the rope up and down, until the skin is taut. Pull hard on the rope to tighten the skin as much as possible. Let the skin dry.

Once the skin is dry, shave it if necessary. Use two drumsticks to play the dunun. The dunun is traditionally played on its side by placing it on a stand or using a shoulder strap, but dununs can also be played standing up on the floor.

Making a Rasp

A rasp, or scraper, is a cylinder of wood, gourd or metal that has notches cut perpendicular to the length of the rasp. The player rubs the notches rhythmically with rod or stick to produce a scraping sound. You can make a rasp out of wood or metal, if you have the right tools, but you can also use PVC piping.

To make a wood rasp, find or make a hollow cylinder of wood about 18 in. long and 4 in. in diameter. Cut a vertical slit on one side of the rasp along its whole length, about 1/2 in. wide. On the opposite side, notch the rasp with a saw or knife, cutting lines perpendicular to the length of the rasp. Make the notches about every 1/2 in. down the length of the rasp. To play it, hold the rasp with the slit side in the palm of your hand. Using a smaller stick, or chopstick, scrape the notches rhythmically.

A metal smith can bend a cylinder of metal about 7 in. long and 1 in. in diameter, then cut notches into the seamed side of the rasp. Metal rasps are typically played with slender metal sticks.

If you do not have access to metal or wood, you can improvise with PVC piping. Saw an 18 in. length of PVC pipe and cut it as you would to make a wooden rasp. Try using a wooden or metal stick to scrape this plastic rasp; experiment with the sound.

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About the Author

Otehlia Cassidy has been writing for 13 years. She has had her work published in various publications including the Yellow Springs News, and the East Emerson Neighborhood Association newsletter, and has a forthcoming article appearing in “Wisconsin Woman” (Feb. 2010). Otehlia received her master’s degree in Conservation Biology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also writes about travel and culinary adventures in her food blog.