Log in

Login to view tutorials

Username *
Password *
Remember Me

Free Bodhrán Tutorial

Thank you for signing up to our free tutorials. We hope you enjoy your tutorial and trust you will gain some insight as to how our tutorials may help bring your playing skills to the next level.

Frank Torpey

Frank TorpeyFrank Torpey took a familiar path among Irish musicians: Learn the tin whistle first and early (in Frank's case, at age eight), then quickly pick up every instrument you can get your hands on (piano accordion, banjo, and drums) and learn those. At age 11, Frank was already giving instrument lessons, excellent training for a future career teaching music at the university level.

Frank prepared further through a music degree at University College Cork. He entered the program playing piano and banjo, but, the course of his musical life quickly changed on hearing a bodhrán performance by Mel Mercier and he switched to bodhrán learning from the styles of Johnny 'Ringo' McDonagh, Colm Murphy and Mercier.

In 1990, three University College Cork students founded the traditional group Nomos. Frank, Niall Vallely (the band's concertina player), and Liz Doherty (Nomos' first fiddler) launched what was to become one of the most popular Irish music acts of the 1990s. Over their ten year history, Nomos recorded two albums and toured the world playing at all the major folk festivals in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

Frank has performed with Riverdance, Mícheál ÓSúilleabháin, and Seamus Tansey, and has recorded with artists such as John Spillane and Alan Stivell. He has appeared on the television shows River of Sound with Mícheál Ó'Súilleabháin and Donal Lunny, and on Sult, again with Dónal Lunny. Frank was the bodhrán tutor at University College Cork for 15 years and it is from this experience that this set of lessons developed. He continues to teach bodhrán, particularly in Ireland, but also throughout Europe and the USA, and has played in more recent times with Buille & Karan Casey, Brendan Ring & Gerry McKee, and with Caitriona O'Leary at concerts and festivals in the UK and mainland Europe.

How to Hit

BodhránNow, try hitting the drum, using the bottom end of the stick only. The stick should be approximately ¼" - ½" (6mm -12mm) from the skin and the inside of your arm should be pointing toward your face.

Now, twist your arm so that you finish with the back of your arm pointing toward your face. Contact with the skin should be made as the inside of your arm faces the skin.

BodhránThe up-stroke is executed by doing the exact opposite.

You should practice this until it all becomes one smooth movement. As you get faster the movement will become smaller, that is, you won't twist your arm as much. Practice this until the down- and up-strokes are equally strong; then practice putting accents (strong beats) on some of the down-strokes. Then practice doing the same rhythmic pattern starting on an up-stroke i.e. the accents are now on the up-strokes..


The jig is the second most commonly played tune type after the reel. It is in 6/8 time, meaning there are six beats (eighth notes) in the bar; the accents fall on beats 1 and 4 (these are the beats that you would naturally tap with your foot or clap).

Note: try accenting the 1 and 4 -   (1  2  3  4  5  6)   - vocally before trying to play it: a mistake that is frequently made is to count 123, leave a gap, and then count 456: this is an easy mistake to make so beware.

The most important element in playing a jig then is to ensure that the 1 and 4 are accented equally: the up-stroke is weaker naturally so it may take a bit of time. Note: if you are having difficulty getting the up-stroke as strong as the down-stroke it may be worthwhile practising individual up-strokes; start with the back of your arm pointing towards your face; take your time between each one: go for quality not quantity.

It is useful to exaggerate the accents at this stage to ensure that you are accomplishing your objective. The first rhythmic pattern that we will try then is the basic jig pattern. Note: all of the patterns that will be demonstrated are eight bar patterns because that is how the tunes are constructed:

Beginners - Basic Jig Pattern.

Basic Jig Pattern

Slow ⬇

Fast ⬇

Break the pattern down into two-bar phrases: the first phrase is played three times and the last two bars finish off the pattern. In the first phrase you simply omit beat 2; you therefore have two down-strokes at the beginning of these bars. Make sure that you continue to accent beats 1 and 4 equally in every bar.

Advanced Reels - Motor Rhythm

In bodhrán playing it is important to establish a ‘motor rhythm’ - a rhythm that underpins the inherent rhythm of the tune - and, the best way to create a motor rhythm in a reel is to establish a solid backbeat (this applies to the majority of - though not all - reels). Try employing the first reel pattern to get a backbeat going. In this rhythmic pattern the left hand starts on the low part and alternates between low and high each beat. Always begin and end on a low tone.

Note: don’t let your left hand double in speed when the movement in the right hand doubles.

You can roll up from the low part to the high and back down to the low; if executed properly this will give you a gulping-type sound between beats 1 and 2, and between beats 3 and 4 in the first, third, and fifth bar, and, it will mean that each eighth-note will have a different tone. Note: it is important that the left-hand movement is fluid; every beat ought to have a different tone.

Advanced Reels

Play Video ⬇

Now try putting in the triplet as before:

Advanced Reels

Play Video ⬇

The triplet should be higher in pitch than the other high-pitched tones. Here is a single reel - that is, a tune where the parts aren’t repeated (AB not AABB) - to demonstrate these two patterns.

Play Video ⬇