Materials Used to Make African Drums

Drum image by Galyna Andrushko from

Africa is called the "drum continent," because it's home to so many types of different drums it would be difficult to name them all. Percussion is the foundation of African music. Drums in Africa are made by hand, and drum playing is a large part of the culture.


The basis for African drums is wood. Different types of wood produce different types of sound, depending on their thickness. For instance, maple produces a standard drum sound. The older the maple, the better sound it will make. It has the most even tone of all the wood types. Birch is also popular, but mahogany is the most sought after wood for drum making. Mahogany can be very expensive, but creates the best and most sought after sound.

Animal Skins

Animal skins are used to make the percussive surface of the drums. Goat and cow skins are used most frequently. A thin skin creates a more open sound, and thick skins are going to create a more full, bass sound. Synthetic skin can be used, but for the most part, African artisans avoid it. Drums made in other places use artificial drum heads, because they are longer lasting, waterproof, and can be simpler for a beginner to play. Synthetic heads are typically made from Fiberskyn, a plastic material that imitates animal skin.

Rope and Rings

The skin used for African drums is held to the wood drum base using rope and two or three iron rings. The rings are used in conjunction with the rope to clamp the skin onto the wood. This creates the tension needed for the skin to remain taut across the drum frame. Drum skins can also be pulled taut with wooden pegs, and some drums use only rope.

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