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The Tar Frame Drum – A Brief History and Review of the Latest Models From Remo

The frame drum has a long history. It is one of the earliest types of instruments played in the World. By definition, a frame drum is any type of drum where the diameter of the head is greater than the depth of the body of the drum itself. While most have a round frame upon which the hide is stretched, there are some types that date far back that are rectangular in shape. Many cultures used the frame drum in religious rituals. There is a rich tradition of women being involved in the playing of these drums.

The Tar, like most frame drums, is traditionally played in the standing, or upright position. One rests the drum vertically on the left, or less dominate hand, with the left thumb lightly gripping the frame at the bottom, but allowing the fourth finger to come around and strike the edge of the head, producing the sharper “tek” tone. The thumb of the right hand rests at about 3 o’clock in about the middle of the right edge of the frame, and acts as a type of pivot allowing the rest of the right hand to swing around and strike the deeper “doum” tones nearer the middle of the drum. The fourth finger of the right hand is also used to strike the edge of the head, producing another sharp and ringing “tek” tone. Another tone is called the “pa” or “ka” tone, which is when one uses the fingertips of the right hand to mute the skin or head of the drum. This stops the vibration of the skin, producing a muted tone. These different strikes/tones are used in different combinations to produce the desired patterns and rhythms. In the Middle East, the most common rhythms are the Maqsuum and Baladii. They are the backbone of that regions music, and are commonly used with belly dancing as well. The Tar originates more from North Africa, and while the style of playing is similar, the traditional beat patterns can vary. There also tends to be more embellishment involved with Tar playing, utilizing more of the fingers, especially along the edge of the frame, with plenty of rolls.

The materials used in most traditional frame drums consist of a round or rectangular shaped wooden frame, with an animal hide stretched taught over it. Normally, this would be a goat hide, but fish skin was and still is used, although not as commonly due to the increased scarcity of the good skins, due no doubt to overfishing of the most commonly used species, a type of Nile fish.

The hide is soaked and then stretched tight and fastened over the frame. As the skin dries, it becomes tighter, which results in the various tones when struck with the hand, or in Native American traditions, often with a soft tipped beater. The inherent problem with using natural skin hides on drums is that they are quite susceptible to changing humidity and the weather. As the air becomes more moist, the hides absorb this and become noticeably looser, sometimes to the point of not really being playable. This is overcome often by artificial means, such as warming the drum heads by a fire (which is the tradition of the drum circle), or carefully using heat lamps to dry out and hence re-tighten the heads for the correct pitch.

In modern times, this problem has been addressed with the introduction of synthetic heads to replace the natural hides. By using a mylar or other type of synthetic head on a drum, you eliminate this problem, allowing the drummer to obtain consistent tone from his or her drum regardless of the air moisture content. The drawback is that you lose some of the warm tones that can only be achieved with a natural hide. Until now…

Remo has long been the leader in synthetic drum head technology. Remo Belli was the pioneer in the concept; he found a way to utilize DuPont Mylar in the World’s first synthetic head, and the Remo company continues to be in the forefront. In their latest breakthrough, they have developed the Skyndeep heads. This revolutionary synthetic head design is unique in that they use a method they developed to embed graphic designs into the material of the head itself, making for vibrant and lasting designs. What makes them even more unique though is that they utilize photographic images of the actual hides the skin is emulating. With Remo’s new Tar collection, for instance, you have real as anything “snake skin” on the 16″ size drum, and two different “goat hides” on the 18″ and 22″ sizes, complete with hair! Now while the hair is not actually there, nor the snake scales, the Skyndeeps have a pleasing texture to the outside that does really make them feel like a natural hide does.

This is another feature that makes the Skyndeep heads on these new Tars such a pleasure to play. But more than the cool graphics and texture, the thickness of the head and the precision with which it is pretuned on the frame is what really sets these new Tars apart. They are tuned exactly to the correct specifications in relation to the size and depth of each frame, thus creating the perfect amount of overtones that professional Tar players seek. These Tar drums sound and play as good as the ones from the originating countries, but are available to anyone at a realistic price. The Remo Tar drum shells are 3″ deep and made of Remo’s patented Acousticon material, another revolutionary technology that utilizes recycled wood and hardening agents to create strong, consistently toned drum frames. These new Tars are slightly thicker than previous Remo frame drum models, making them sturdier than ever. The outside of the frames are covered with a perfectly textured Earthy brown material that has the look and feel of an older traditional frame drum.

These Remo Tar frame drums are a pleasure to play and sound fantastic. The overtones produce strong and lasting ringing sounds, and the bass tones, especially of the 22″ version, are dominating, with great warm punchy attack and lasting depth. And with Remo’s patented PTS (Pre-Tuned System), you do not have to worry about tuning to the correct pitch; it is already right there, you just jam! These well-made professional Tar drums will provide you with years of drumming pleasure, are easy to transport and just too much fun. Your friends will be impressed and envious when you show them yours.

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