Also:       tang gu      

Contextual Associations

The tanggu is a double-headed membranophone of the Han Chinese. Its name means ‘hall drum.’  It is used in the percussion sections of a wide variety of regional opera orchestras, Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian temple ensembles, and outdoor processional bands with shawms. Chinese drums of approximately the same design and size may be named differently in different regions of China or even in different ensemble settings in a single region. A sense of the broad distribution of tanggu drums can be gleaned from pictures in Stephen Jones' book Folk Music of China (see photos on pages 105, 107, 216, 230, 256, 258, and 315).


The shell of this drum is made from several slats of wood glued together to form a barrel. The cowhide heads are stretched over both of the shell's open ends and held in place and tension with double rows of tightly spaced tacks. Unpadded stick beaters are used to strike the drumheads.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Four rings attached to the circumference of the shell allow the drum to be vertically suspended from a stand. Two wood stick beaters are used to strike the upward facing membrane (see Video) by a seated or standing musician. In Beijing Opera, this drum is often used in combination with suona to accompany military scenes.


Double-headed barrel-shaped drums with tacked on heads have been a part of the Chinese ritual music landscape most likely for millennia. Such drums have varied in name, size, and context, and many of the oldest traditions they have been associated with have died and been resurrected more than once (see Lam 1995). So it is not possible to provide a defensible date of origin for the particular form of this drum type labeled ‘tanggu’ as pictured here, especially in regard to its use in popular forms of Chinese musical expression that were not commented on by the authors of surviving treatises.

Bibliographic Citations

Jones, Stephen. 1995. Folk Music of China: Living Instrumental Traditions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lam, Joseph S. C. (1995). "The yin and yang of Chinese Music Historiography: The Case of Confucian Ceremonial Music," Yearbook for Traditional Music 27: 34-51.

Thrasher, Alan R. 1984. "Tanggu." NGDMI v.3: 522.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: China

Formation: Han

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.222.11 membranophone--individual double-skin barrel drum, one skin used for playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - barrel

Number and function of membranes: two, one for sounding and one for resonance

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane nailed to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking with two handheld beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


13.5 in. height of shell 10 in, greatest diameter of shell 8.1 in. diameter of shell openings

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin

Entry Author

Roger Vetter