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How to Play the Tambourine: Basic Tambourine Technique

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 29, 2020 • 2 min read

The tambourine is a percussion instrument that transcends genre, turning up in everything from classical music to folk music to pop music. For millennia, humans have used variants on the tambourine to make music across cultures.



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What Is a Tambourine?

A tambourine is a percussion instrument that consists of a solid, round frame inset with metal disks known as zills (typically made of brass or steel). Most tambourines have a drum head stretched across the frame; traditionally this was a goatskin head, but modern tambourines tend to use plastic heads. Headless tambourines are also common.

In the world of musical instruments, the tambourine is considered a hand drum; a player can easily grip it in one hand and either shake it or strike it with the opposite hand. However, a tambourine can also mount to a drum kit. Drummers play these tambourines with drum sticks, rods, or other beaters.

7 Types of Tambourines

All tambourines have a drum frame and zills—which are almost always brass jingles or steel jingles. Many types of tambourine are common:

  1. Single-row tambourine: A tambourine made with one row of zills.
  2. Double-row tambourine: A tambourine with pairs of jingles instead of single zills. The double row produces a louder overall sound than single row jingles.
  3. Timbrel: An ancient Hebrew drum (originally known as a tof) quite similar to the modern tambourine.
  4. Tar: A small tambourine-like drum found in Turkish and Arabic cultures.
  5. Pandeiro: A Brazillian wood tambourine with a single drum head.
  6. Hi-hat tambourine: A headless tambourine that sits atop the hi-hat in a drum set and sounds whenever the drummer depresses or releases the hi-hat pedal.
  7. Foot tambourine: A tambourine attached to a player's foot or shoe.
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How to Play the Tambourine

Tambourine playing technique varies with genre:

  • Drum set tambourines: These tambourines mount to drum kit hardware. You can play them like any standard-frame drum or cymbal. Note that wire brushes make very little sound on a mounted tambourine; drum sticks tend to be a better choice.
  • Handheld tambourines: To play a handheld tambourine, hold it in your non-dominant hand and strike it against your other hand, or shake it in the air. If you hold the tambourine at a 45-degree angle with the ground, you'll get greater vibration from the zills. If you plan to perform rolls on the head of the tambourine, it's better to hold the instrument at a 90-degree angle.
  • Shake rolls: The most common of all tambourine rolls, shake rolls generate tremendous sound from the instrument's jingles. Hold the tambourine at a 90-degree angle from the ground, and shake it up and down. When shaking the tambourine, don't move your full arm. Keep a loose wrist, and let that wrist guide the tambourine's motion through the air.
  • Thumb rolls and finger rolls: You can produce a drumroll-style effect on a handheld tambourine. With your dominant hand (the hand that isn't gripping the tambourine), run your thumb or forefinger around the circumference of the tambourine head, ideally one centimeter in from the rim. If you can achieve the right balance of speed and pressure, you can create rapid-fire percussive sounds reminiscent of a snare drumroll.


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