tenor drum (early)

Also:       caisse roulante      Rührtrommel      

Contextual Associations

This tenor drum is a double-headed cylindrical membranophone of modern manufacture but inspired by iconographic sources dating back to Renaissance Europe. From the second half of the 15th century onward, drums (especially those outfitted with snares and referred to as ‘side drums’) like this one would be used primarily in military bands, but there is evidence that they were also used alongside a variety of wind instruments for outdoor court and civic music. Its maker, Jeremy Montagu, designed and built drums such as this one for use by modern day performers of early European music.


The cylindrical shell for this drum, made from laminated wood, is a repurposed shell from a modern tenor drum by the Leedy company. The membranes are made from a thin and translucent mammal skin, perhaps pigskin. The circumference of each membrane is folded over a rope ring serving as a flexible fleshhoop and stitched to it with a fine thread; the diameter of each fleshhoop is slightly greater than that of the shell rim it covers. A long length of cotton rope is threaded over one head’s ring (and passes through a hole in the membrane to do so) before running across the shell and being threaded over the other membrane’s ring and running back across the shell again to the first head. This pattern is repeated sixteen times around the circumference of the shell. The points at which the rope passes over the hoop of one head are offset from the points at which it crosses the hoop of the other head, resulting in a V-shaped lacing pattern. Near each of the crossing points of one head a leather ring surrounds the two lengths of lacing; when slid toward the other head, creating a Y-shaped lacing pattern, tension is applied to both drumheads. Part of playing this drum is the need to adjust the tension of the drum’s two heads evenly by the positioning of these sliding rings.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

This tenor drum is provided with two means by which to hold it for performance. The ends of a length or rope are tied to one of the laces so that it can be used as a shoulder strap that will position the beater head (facing upwards) about thigh-high to the player’s left. In this position the drum would be struck with two wooden drumsticks, one in each hand, using the traditional, unmatched grip. A short leather belt is also provided that loops around a few of the drum’s laces and that can be used as a handle. If held by this handle, only one hand would be left free for striking the beater head with a single stick.


The instrument pictured here is not based on any extant early drum but was conceived from iconographic representations of drums from Renaissance and later sources. Its maker has incorporated elements of tabor and side drum design to produce a useful membranophone for modern day performers of early European music. The use of rope fleshhoops without wooden counterhoops harkens back to drum technologies of the Medieval period, but the drum shell size and proportions seem more characteristic of Renaissance period and later military side drums. The absence of snares places this design at odds with many early representations of both tabors and side drums. What is now called a tenor drum is of similar proportion to the drum described here and can be made with or without snares, but this is considered to be a 19th century design.


Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

________. 1984. “3. Side drum [snare drum].” NGDMI v.1: 605-609.

Holland, James. 1978. Percussion. New York: Schirmer Books.

Montegu, Jeremy. 1976. Making Early Percussion Instruments. London: Oxford University Press.

________. 2002. Timpani and Percussion. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.212.11 membranophone--individual double-skin cylindrical drum, one skin used for playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - cylindrical

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

Membrane design: framed with pliant rope hoop

Membrane attachment: framed membrane hoop connected by lacing to framed membrane hoop

Membrane tension control: sliding rings joining adjacent laces

Sounding for membranophone: striking with two handheld beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


14 in. diameter 10.2 in. height

Primary Materials

wood - laminated
membrane - mammal skin
cord - cotton


Jeremy Montagu

Entry Author

Roger Vetter