Courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins

The tom-tom is a cylindrical drum with no snares attached (unlike the snare drum). It can have either one or two heads. The shell is usually made of wood.

Tom-toms come in varying sizes, from about 15 cm (6”) to 40 cm (16”) in diameter. The bigger ones make a lower sound and the smaller ones make a higher sound. They often come in pairs.

In the West, tom-toms can be tuned and can imitate the sounds of, for example, Indian, African and Chinese drums.

Various implements can be used to play the tom-tom

Various implements can be used to play the tom-tom

To play it

You can play a tom-tom with drum sticks, mallets, bare hands, brushes or a variety of other implements.

The sound

The tom-tom makes a satisfying ‘bom-bom’ sound. It can range from low to high and soft to very loud.

Tom-toms and tam-tams might sound alike when you say them, but they don’t sound alike when you play them! Tom-toms are drums; tam-tams are big dishes of metal.

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 A tom-tom has...

a. Shoulders
b. A neck
c. A head

 Which of these is not used to play a tom-tom?

a. Sticks
b. Brushes
c. Plectrum

 The tom-tom is part of which section?

a. Percussion
b. Woodwind
c. Brass

 Which of these is the tom-tom able to do?

a. Play a rhythm
b. Play a melody
c. Play a chord

 What is the tom-tom?

a. A motot
b. A cymbal
c. A drum

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Selected Tom-Tom Extracts

Dmitry Shostakovich (1906–1975)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129: III. Adagio – Allegro (extract)

A dramatic moment for tom-toms in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto.

Performers: Ilya Kaler, violin; Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Anton Wit

Taken from Naxos 8.550814