If you have yet to jump into the melodic aspect of drumming, the steel tongue drum is a great place to start. Perhaps you have seen one in a drum circle, played by a busker, or as part of a larger ensemble.
Even if you are entirely new to music, the steel tongue drum is perfect. It is easy to learn, and it sounds beautiful from the first moment you play it. Seriously this instrument sounds fantastic! Below are the eight best steel tongue drums to help you get started.
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Steel Tongue Drum Basics
The steel tongue drum (a.k.a the tank or hank drum) is an idiophone. These are instruments like xylophones, cymbals, woodblocks, rattles, gongs, and other things you bang on. It is a recent invention fashioned from the bottom of a propane cylinder.
The bottom is cut off, and then tongues are cut radially into it to create the different notes. Sometimes weights are added to help make or refine these tones. The final sound is nice and bell-like and can come in pentatonic, diatonic, or chromatic scales. They can be played with mallets or by hand.
In western music, we have 12 notes in the chromatic scale. Depending on the orders and pitches of these notes used, you can create other types of scales. The most common to learn is the C major scale;
By mixing the 1, 3, and 5 of that scale, we get a major chord or C-E-G for C major. The formula for a minor chord is 1, b3, 5, which means a flat third degree. So C minor comes out to be C-Eb-F and the minor scale;
This works the same way for every key. Use your Circle of Fifths when you need to find one. The major chord and scale have an uplifting and intense feeling, while the minor is sadder and more contemplative. Depending on which notes are raised or lowered in our scale is what gives our music flavor.
Each note of the scale above also has a special mode. We’ve already mentioned the major and minor. You will also find some drums in modes like Lydian, in which you can find a ton of songs.
Eventually, in music, you will find new scales outside of the common western ones above. Traditional music can be pentatonic or intervals wholly different from western. A C major pentatonic scale is another standard tuning and consists of the notes;
The 8 Best Steel Tongue Drums
Of course, you will need to dive a little further into some music theory. With this basic understanding of scales, it should be easier to pick a tank drum below. If you still aren’t sure, the C major pentatonic is always an excellent first time buy.
1) Meinl Percussion Sonic Energy Tongue Drum
This steel tongue drum has a precision-crafted steel frame that is black powder-coated. It is 12” in diameter with a fixed tuning system that will last. It uses an A minor scale and can be played by hand or the mallets with it. Meinl has other design styles and scales for a similar price.
- Great for both first time and experienced players
- Durable and worthy of performance and busking
- Many of their tank drum models have great reviews
- If you want a more colorful or fancy design, this will not be the best choice
- No doubt the cost is a little high for a cut-up propane tank
- The tuning is not adjustable
2) Pearl Awakening Series
Pearl has six different scale models: G major, C major, A minor, C Lydian, A Akebono, and C Akebono. The Akebono scale is a traditional Japanese scale similar to our major, just with no tonic or root. Every drum comes with a card that shows where the notes are. Each drum is hardened steel, and the tongues laser cut.
- · A lot of scales and colors to choose from
- If you want multiple scales for performance you can buy the series
- Durably built with activities like busking in mind
- They are only 10” so a little small for the price
- At roughly $300, a quality tank drum is not a cheap expenditure
- These are new, so not many reviews are out there yet
3) Regis Tongue Drum (Budget Option)
This, by far, wins the award for the best budget option at a much lower price than the rest. It is tiny at 6” and under 2 lbs. Despite the name, it is made of titanium, not steel. You can buy them in multiple colors, and it comes with mallets and a bag. Regis aims the drum at a younger age group or players looking for inexpensive fun.
- Simple and easy to learn even for children
- A music book is also included with many songs to play
- Many reviewers are surprised by the sound for such a low price
- Not for someone looking for sound projection
- Lower prices will always mean more quality control issues
- If the tuning is off, many first time players may not realize
4) Lomuty Steel Tongue Drum
This affordable drum is made from a steel titanium alloy with a weight of about 8 lbs. It is 12 inches with 11 notes in a C major pentatonic mixed scale (so doubling some notes on another octave). The tongues are carved in a lotus flower shape, and the bottom has silicone feet to stabilize it.
- It has 11 different colors to choose from
- Comes with mallets, case, and music book with songs
- Another affordable option to get into playing the tongue drum
- A few complaints about poor paint quality seems to be an issue
- The cheaper drums will potentially have tuning issues
- There are also far too many reviews claiming missing accessories
5) Idiopan Domina
This friendly looking drum weighs about 9 lbs and has eight notes tuned to a C major pentatonic scale. It is tunable because it comes with magnets to help alter the pitch. It can also be changed to 432Hz (which has no magical effects!). This company makes a few different steel tongue drums, and this one happens to be the female voice in the series.
- Flashy colors like emerald, sapphire, and ruby
- It includes a pair of black mallets and a display ring
- Many happy reviews raving about the pretty sound quality
- The magnets included are powerful and can be hazards for little kids
- Doesn’t come with a case or book like other drums
- For the high price, there may be better tongue drum options
This drum here is based on the arcane scale, which uses the notes A C D E F G A C. It is also a little larger at almost 15”; however, it weighs a lot less at roughly 4 lbs. The engraved design is what will likely attract most buyers to this drum. The price is on the higher side, so make sure you are happy with the scale and design.
- You can request a customized scale for your Guda Drum
- The attractive design does generate a lot of attention from listeners
- The scale and appearance make it perfect for a meditation type drum
- If you want a plain colored drum, you should pick another option
- The heavily ornate tongue drums may not be as loud as the plain steel
- The quality is worth it but may be out of your budget range
Rav Vast 2
This one is not cheap and meant for the steel tongue drum devotee. This beautiful drum is tuned to a D Celtic minor scale with added harmonics. Besides the exceptional tuning, it is built to be resistant to all sorts of weather and stand on different ground types. Clearly, for the money, some added research is necessary, but this an incredible sounding drum.
- If you want to busk this will have fantastic sound quality
- 20” patented hardened steel that is almost an inch thick
- Just listen to some of the videos of this tongue drum being played
- Way out of budget for many steel tongue drummers
- It does not appear to come with mallets
- If you don’t like music theory, there will be more to learn about harmonics
This hank drum comes in the Equinox scale with the notes G B C D E F# with the G B D repeated in another octave. The harmonics are different from being played with hands or mallets, another beautiful sounding drum either way. The diameter is about 13,” and it weighs almost 7 lbs. It also comes with a carrying case.
- Tuned and built with creative composers in mind
- The high harmonics are famous for meditation oriented players
- Sold as the perfect entry instrument into world music
- There are no other colors or designs to choose fro
- Be sure to get the right scale; there are mix-ups
- Very high budget for those just starting on tank drums
So there you have some excellent steel tongue drums. They have found homes in yoga and meditation studios, percussion centric bands, and even worship music. While it may have limitations due to specific keys and scales, it still has a broad use.
Your best bet is to try one of the Meinl models or the Pearl series. Yes, that $200-$300 budget is a little high, but the better the brand and build, the nicer the sound. A great sounding tank drum will impress an audience. Spend an appropriate amount when you buy your best steel tongue drum, and there will be many happy ears!