Friction drum

Friction drum

A friction drum is a musical instrument found in various forms in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. In Europe it emerged in the 16th century and was associated with specific religious and ceremonious occasions.


A friction drum is a percussion instrument consisting of a single membrane stretched over a sound box, whose sound is produced by the player causing the membrane to vibrate by friction. The sound box may be a pot or jug or some open-ended hollow object. To produce the friction, the membrane may be directly rubbed with the fingers or through the use of a cloth, or a stick or cord which is attached to the centre of the membrane and then rubbed or moved with a hand, sponge or cloth, generally wet. The membrane may be depressed with the thumb while playing to vary the pitch. When a cord is used the instrument may be referred to as a "string drum" or "lion’s roar". In some friction drums, the friction is obtained by spinning the drum around a pivot.

Use in folk music

In Europe, the friction drum arose as folk instrument around the 16th century.

  • Brazil: cuíca, In Brazil it is primarily used in Rio de Janeiro-style Carnival samba. A stick is attached to the centre of the membrane and protrudes into the inside of the sound box, which is an open-ended cylinder. The player reaches inside the sound box from the other end to rub the stick.
  • Germany In Germany it is known as a Brummtopf or Rummelpott. On New Year’s Eve there is a tradition in North Germany in which masked children with homemade instruments including Rummelpott go from house to house singing special Rummelpott songs in Low German. People then give sweets or fruits to the group.
  • Hungary: köcsögduda (jughorn or jugpipe), especially used in zither orchestras. Leather or parchment is tightened over the top of a large terracotta or wooden jug. A reed or length of horsehair is fastened to the cover and rubbed with a wet hand.
  • Italy: caccavella, also known by many other names. The body may be an earthenware pot, a wooden tub or a tin can, with a length of bamboo pierced through an animal skin membrane and rubbed.
  • Malta: iz-zafzafa or iz-rumbaba. The membrane is of cat or goat stomach stretched over a tin and pierced in the centre by a long bamboo reed which is rubbed with a wet sponge or cloth.
  • Netherlands: foekepot or rommelpot. The syllable “foek” is probably meant to be onomatopoeic. It is rubbed with a rosined stick. In some parts of the Netherlands, e.g. on the island IJsselmonde, it was tradition, until the 1950s, to go from house to house on New Year's Eve singing songs to the rhythmic accompaniment of the rommelpot. This tradition is still maintained in North Holland on the feast of St. Martin. In Brabant rommelpot can also refer to the dance which is accompanied by the instrument.
  • Portugal: sarronca
  • Romania: buhai (‘ox’), made of a wooden tub or bucket with an animal skin and a horsehair "ox tail" for rubbing.
  • Spain: zambomba. This friction drum can be made from a variety of materials and rubbed either with a rod or with rope. It is particularly associated with Christmas when it used to accompany the singing of carols.
  • Ukraine:buhay (бугай) (also known as a Bugai, Buhai, Berebenytsia, Bika, Buga, Bochka). The Buhay was traditionally used as part in New Years and Christmas rituals. It is used in works by the Ukrainian folk instruments orchestra. Local variants can also be found in Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Lithuania.
  • Venezuela: The furro is used in zulian traditional music such as parranda and gaita.

Use in Western European classical music

The composer Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625) wrote a keyboard fantasia in which he quotes the Dutch melody De Rommelpot. In modern times the friction drum has been used by several Western composers. Edgard Varèse used it in Hyperprism (1924) and Ionisation (1933). Alexander Goehr specifies a “lion’s roar” in his Romanza for cello and orchestra (1968). Carl Orff used a whirled friction drum in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1934-52) and Benjamin Britten, in his Children’s Crusade, (1969) calls for a string drum to be struck with drumsticks and bowed by means of the stretched string.

Depictions in Western European paintings

The friction drum (rommelpot) features in several paintings by Dutch painters, e.g. Two Boys and a Girl making music by Jan Molenaer (hanging in the National Gallery, London), and in The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel (1559) (hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).


  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians; edited by Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Music in the Renaissance; by Gustave Reese; London 1954

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