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Title: Iqa’at—Iraqi Traditional Rhythmic Structures. Label: Philips. Format: LP. Catalogue#: 6586 038. Track: B-1.

Contextual Associations

Nakers is a pair of struck vessel membranophones used today primarily in early music ensembles. In Medieval Europe they were used in a variety of martial and court contexts, as evidenced by their appearance in numerous iconographic sources. They appear occasionally also in bas reliefs on cathedrals and in illuminations in liturgical texts. The nakers pictured here are recently manufactured and based on information gleaned from the study of the above-mentioned iconographic sources.


Each of the similarly-sized drums has a hemispheric shell made of pounded copper the rim of which is rounded by folding it inward. The mammal hide head is lapped over a rope loop, serving as a tension hoop, the diameter of which is slightly greater than that of the shell’s rim. The head is attached to the shell with a single long lace made of synthetic cord that runs back-and-forth in a V-pattern around the membrane’s rope hoop and a small metal ring, that serves as a counterhoop, at the apex of the bowl-shaped shell. Leather tuning straps join together segments of the lacing just above the counterhoop ring and can be slid towards to rim of the shell to increase the tension on the drumhead.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Nakers are often pictured tied to their performer’s waist with the heads facing somewhat forward. They appear to be struck with wooden beaters, sometimes curved, one in each of the player’s hands. Though of similar size, they were likely tuned slightly apart from one another. No music survives for the instrument, but present-day performers of Medieval music occasionally arrange or improvise parts for the nakers. They are relatively soft sounding drums, and given that they are sometimes pictured in small groups of instruments, they seem most appropriate for use in chamber size instrumental ensembles.


Probably descending from the Middle Eastern naqqāra drum pair, nakers were known in Europe by the late thirteenth century. They continued to be used up to the early 17th century for dance and processional music, but by then the larger timpani was winning favor especially for use in larger ensembles. Nakers were reintroduced around the middle of the 20th century as part of the early music movement.

Bibliographic Citations

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

________. 1984. “Nakers.” NGDMI v.2: 744-745.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montagu, Jeremy. 2002. Timpani and Percussion. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.11 membranophone--separate vessel drum, the single playing head encloses a body in the form of a vessel that is curvilinear or rectilinear in profile

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: pair of drums

Shell design: vessel with opening

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: framed with pliant rope hoop

Membrane attachment: framed membrane hoop laced to smaller-diameter ring counterhoop

Membrane tension control: sliding rings joining adjacent laces

Sounding for membranophone: striking with two handheld beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


8.7 in. diameter

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
cord - synthetic
leather - tanned

Entry Author

Roger Vetter