How to play the bodhrán
If you really want to play the bodhrán, it would do no harm to observe the following guidelines:
Familiarise yourself as thoroughly as possible with the music before approaching within smelling distance of a goat-skin. If you can, learn some other instrument besides the bodhrán. At the very least, you should be able to lilt a selection of about fifty tunes in varying tempos.
If you want to join in a session, ask the other musicians first, or wait until you are asked. This common courtesy should be observed by all musicians, but bodhrán players seem to ignore it more than most.
If there already is a bodhrán player in the session, forget about it.
If, after the requisite amount of hard work and sensitive listening, your playing is acceptable to other musicians, don't be afraid to express yourself. The obverse of the ignorant and insensitive is the paranoiac and guilt-ridden player who cannot enjoy himself for fear of spoiling others' enjoyment. If you must play the bodhrán, then play it.
excerpt from -
Ireland's Traditional Crafts.
David Shaw-Smith, Thames and Hudson.
The origin of the frame drum known as the bodhrán is obscure. It is thought to date from pagan times, but in more recent years it has become associated with the 'wren boys', an old custom whereby on St. Stephen's Day a wren is captured and paraded from house to house accompanied by music.
Malachy Kearns, who lives and works in Roundstone, Co. Galway, is respected as a fine bodhrán maker. The most favoured and common skins he uses are goat and deer; greyhound and donkey hides are also good. The skins are cured in hydrated lime mixed with ingredients that are the close secret of every bodhrán maker; cured thus, they will keep indefinitely. They are then soaked for seven to ten days in a solution of lime sulphide, which softens the skin and partially dissolves the fatty tissue so that fat and hair can be easily removed with a scraper.
After skin has been stretched on a frame for two to three days and scraped further, a portion of it is removed and tacked under tension onto the beechwood frame of the bodhrán using brass upholstery nails. As an added precaution it is also glued. Next the cross-pieces are fitted. The beater can be turned from holly, oak, beech and even larch.
In the hands of a skilled player it can be a subtle and exciting instrument. The skin is struck in a variety of ways, even using the heel of the hand and fingers, the hand supporting the instrument, tucked in behind the cross piece, varies the colour and intensity of the sound by pressing on the skin. The side of the beater is also used to good effect on the wooden rim.
From the Appletree Guide to Irish Traditional Music by Ciaran Carson.