The friction drum is a type of musical instrument that can be found throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America in various forms. It first appeared in Europe in the 16th century and supported certain religious and ceremonial activities. Actually, its ancestral connection with specific occasions remains in European traditions since then.
The instrument consists of a single membrane stretched over a soundbox. The player produces sound by creating friction on the membrane which makes it vibrate. The soundbox may be for example a pot, or a jug. To produce sound, the membrane may be directly rubbed with the fingers. Another variation of the instrument uses a stick or a cord attached to the center of the membrane and then rubbed. The cord variation may appear named as “string drum” or “lion’s roar”. In another variation, a waxed or rosined cord affixed to the center of the head replaces the central stick.
In Flanders, Belgium, a variation known as Rommelpot appears associated with Christmas. Dutch artist Frans Hals (1580-1666) offers a clear illustration of this instrument. In Italy, it is known onomatopoeically as “puttiputi” or “puttipu”, or as “caccavella“. In Spain, the zambomba, also a friction drum, appears at festal rejoicings. Similar happens in Germany, where the friction drum exists as Reibtrommel, though its old name was Brummtopf (or growling pot). In England, this instrument appears as Jackdaw. Variations like this one and those resembling the Rommelpot still appear in Hungarian folk music. Today, the orchestral percussionists know the instrument better as “Lion’s roar”. It appears as such in Vares’ Hyperprism (1924) and Ionisation (1934) orchestral pieces. Here, the name “Tambour d’corde” refers to it.
The “whirled” drum, the last descendant of the friction drum and, according to Sachs, possibly a descendant of the bullroarer, consists of a thin board whirled at the end of a string. It’s still in use among primitive cultures. The instrument also exists under its German name Waldteufel, meaning “forest devil”. Despite the name, it closely relates to merrymaking and exists as a child’s toy. Carl Orff included this instrument in his score for a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1939, 1944, and 1952).
Better-known variations of the friction drum
The Cuica is one of the better-known versions of the friction drum. Metal, gourd, or synthetic materials are commonly used for its body. It features a single head made of animal skin that is usually six to ten inches in diameter. A slender bamboo stick connects to the middle of the drum head and extends into the drum’s interior, parallel to this head.
With the aid of a shoulder strap, the instrument sits under one arm at chest height. To play it, performers rub the stick up and down with a damp cloth using one hand while pressing down on the skin of the drum with the fingers of the other. The pitch changes by altering the pressure on the head.