Phyllis Heeney

Hand Made Skin Drums

In 2011 I discovered drumming and fell in love with both African and native drumming.  As a bow-hunter I thought it would be fun to make a drum from the hide of an animal that I harvested. After making my first drum (from a caribou skin), I was hooked.  

Drum making combines many of my loves: woodworking (to make the frames), working with animal skins (for the drum heads and the lacing), tie-dying (to colour the hides) and sewing to make the drum bags.  

When making a drum I start with the raw material, and I mean literally “raw” material.  In the fall hunters give me their deer or moose hides and I flesh, de-hair, stretch and dry the hides using traditional methods.  Tie-dying and colouring of drums is done before the skin is stretched on the drum frame.  Stretching a hide on a drum frame is always exciting because each hide is as unique as the animal it comes from and stretches unpredictably with an interesting effect.  This makes each drum completely unique.  It is always fun to see what will happen with a drum.  My husband teases me that I am addicted to drum making.  I like bright colours and try to make drums that are as bright as my personality. Because the skin is dyed, not painted the colour will not wear off with use, but will remain brilliant for years to come.  I also leave some drums undyed for people who prefer a natural looking drum. 

All my frame drums are made with a frame that I make from pine, cedar or spruce.  These drums will produce a clear bell-like sound when the drum head is not touching anything or any part of your body while being played.  Every drum has its own unique voice, just like the animal it came from and the person playing it.  

I also make bowl drums and two-sided drums that are ideal for kids and even toddlers to play.  Bowl drums are made from repurposed wooden salad or nut bowls, modified to resonate like a drum.  They can be played without holding them (which is easy for kids) but have a nicer sound when they are held by the strap. 

Each drum comes with a padded beater (frame drums), drum stick (bowl and 2-sided drums) and a unique cloth carrying/storage bag made from repurposed fabric.  Beaters are usually made with leather or suede padding and a stick carved by a beaver (really!).   They are lined with repurposed wool.  When choosing a drum, you are encouraged to try different beaters to see which gives the sound that you like best

The drums I make are made to be played. They should have a light bell-like tone that varies with the drum, the drum stick used, the person playing it and the weather. The vibrations produced by these drums can give comfort and strength to you emotionally, spiritually and even physically.  If you’re in the store, please pick up a drum and a beater and play.  You will be surprised by the beautiful sound you can make and how good it will make you feel.  I hope you get as much enjoyment playing these drums as I do making them.

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