The happy steel tongue drum is an easy and rewarding instrument to play. With just a little bit of practise, you should be up and running in no time!

The first step is to familiarise yourself with the layout of your happy drum. Our happy drums come in two layouts: Orient your happy drum so that you can read the letters in the scale legend, then look at the images below to determine which layout your happy drum has.

9 Note layout

The more common 9-note layout is shown in the image on the right. The scale legend is located on the front edge of the instrument in a white circle. You may have a different tuning to the one shown, in which case your letters will be different. But don’t worry, the layout will be the same.
The letter inside the smaller circle represents the largest tongue, also called the “ding”, found in the centre of the instrument. We have numbered this note 0. The letters around the edge of the circle represent the eight smaller tongues. These letters are the notes of the scale.
To play the scale, we start at the 5 o’clock position, which is the note nearest to us on the right-hand side. We have numbered this note 1. From there, we move right-to-left, front-to-back, ignoring the ding.
We follow the scale from 1 to 8 playing the odd-numbered notes with our right hand and the even-numbered notes with our left hand.
This layout lets us play the whole scale alternating our hands right and left. Try playing your happy drum in this order. Congratulations, you’ve just played the scale of your happy drum!
The ding is technically part of the scale, but it is always several tones below the rest of the scale and is usually utilised more as an accent or drone to add flavour to your playing. Try incorporating it after you’ve gotten used to the main notes of the scale.

Excercises 

Let’s try a few exercises to get familiar with the whole instrument.
Try each exercise below, making sure you use the correct hands.
When you get to the end of a table, you can start again!
Try playing each one several times in a row without any breaks.
Start slowly, perhaps with a metronome if you want to keep a steady tempo, and gradually get faster until you can play smoothly and clearly.

happy drum excercises

8 Note layout

The 8-note layout is shown in the image on the right.
The scale legend is in the centre of the instrument in a white circle. You may have a different tuning to the one shown, in which case your letters will be different. But don’t worry, the layout will be the same. There is nothing inside the smaller circle because there is no “ding”.
The letters around the edge of the circle represent the eight tongues. These letters are the notes of the scale.
Playing this scale is a little more complicated! To play the scale, we start at the 12 o’clock position, which is the note farthest away from us. We have numbered this note 1. From there, we move counter-clockwise on the bigger tongues, then counter-clockwise on the smaller tongues.
We follow the scale from 1 to 8 playing the odd-numbered notes with our right hand and the even-numbered notes with our left hand. This layout lets us play the whole scale alternating our hands right and left. Try playing your happy drum in this order. Congratulations, you’ve just played the scale of your happy drum!

Excercises 

Let’s try a few exercises to get familiar with the instrument. Try each exercise below, making sure to use the correct hand. An empty cell means a rest. When you get to the end of a table, you can start again! Try playing each one several times in a row without any breaks. Start slowly, perhaps with a metronome if you want to keep a steady tempo, and gradually get faster until you can play smoothly and clearly.

happy steel tongue drums in a variety of tunings
happy drum 8 note layer

That’s it! You’ve learned your way around the basics of your happy steel tongue drum!
The exercises above will hopefully show you that there are no limits to creating interesting sounds with these lovely instruments. There are many ways to play, including playing more than one note at a time. See which chords sound nice together and which don’t. You might even find rotating the instrument and playing from a different angle can create exciting results! How do the notes sound when struck with the pad of a finger instead of the mallet? What about if you mute some notes with one hand while playing the other notes with your free hand?

Our Happy drums range