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Slit-drum (Fr. tambour de bois, tambour à fente; Ger. Schlitztrommel)locked

  • Peter Cooke


An idiophone percussion tube or percussion vessel in the classificatory system of Hornbostel and Sachs – not a true drum. It is used for musical or signalling purposes (see Talking drum) and made by cutting, burning or gouging one or more slits in the wall of a hollowed-out piece of wood. Slit-drums vary in size from gigantic, consisting of whole tree-trunks which are sometimes covered with a roof for protection to small portable ones like the temple block. On many slit-drums, especially in Africa, the two sides (or lips) of the slit are carved to different thicknesses so that at least two pitches can be produced. In areas where tonal languages are spoken, this enables the drum to be used for conveying messages by reproducing pitch phonemes, generally as conventional formulae; this is true, for example, of the Igbo regions of Nigeria, where the use of double as well as single slits extends the range of speech patterns that can be imitated. Elsewhere, as in Oceania, signalling codes are made up of arbitrary sequences of long and short beats. Sachs (p.37) discussed the ritual use of the slit-drum and the sexual symbolism implicit in its shape. Slit-drums are sometimes called slit-gongs, a term that Sachs rejected (p.30)....

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C. Sachs: The History of Musical Instruments (New York, 1940)