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I just purchased a new tongue drum off eBay. The listing title was: "BURNING&LIN Steel Tongue Drum" but under brand on the listing's details page, is: "Unbranded." It is 15" with 14 notes, a kind of blue-grey textured metal with a light grey macramé-ish thing around its waist, It came with a white carrying bag, plus the sticks, finger thingies, more number stickers and what look like replacement feet. It also has a songbook, but it's pretty sparse on info. The tongues are shaped like the fat end of an Edison lightbulb, with a point at the top of each.

How can I jam with friends, when my notes are numbers instead of letters and they're like - play me a D or an F or whatever, and I'm like, what number is that? (embarrassing) How can I figure out what actual notes these tongues are? It's frustrating, but I'm in love with the drum!

I have looked on this site and on the interwebs in general, but everyone is talking in music terms that I don't understand - for example: pentatonic? I thought that was an acapella singing group? I really didn't want to have to take music lessons or learn music theory, just to have fun. I found some info here and elsewhere, but it doesn't seem to line up with reality, so I'm stuck with numbers. I really want to put letter stickers on it until I can play it without needing to look so hard or test out different tongues. Anyone know where can I get a map?

This is the ebay listing: BURNING&LIN Steel Tongue Drum

Thank you in advance! :o) ~Dawn.

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    One simple trial-and-error way: when your friend says "Play me a D," say "you play me one!", and then try your pitches to find one that matches. Apr 18 at 13:50
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    Note: the proposed duplicate is too specific to its model to be useful here. Voting against duplicate. Apr 18 at 13:51
  • @AndyBonner but the notation is the same for both.
    – Tom
    Apr 18 at 14:30
  • @Tom Yes, but the question was not "how do I read [what this ebay listing refers to as] 'standard' numeric labels for tongue drums." The question asserted that the instrument was pentatonic and the answer restricts itself to that, giving a map for each of its keys. The current OP seems to have a full diatonic set, and lacks the musical experience to extrapolate from the pentatonic answer. Apr 18 at 14:35
  • @AndyBonner Fair point, but the op also asks for a "map" of the notes which the dup does give. Well, best would be to know if the op is satisfied with the dup :)
    – Tom
    Apr 18 at 16:20

2 Answers 2

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It appears to have 15 tongues,(you reckon 14?) with numbers ranging from 1-7. That presumes there are two octaves, with say, 1 and 1, 2 and 2 being octave copies of each other, and the notes belonging to one specific diatonic scale.

I guess that no. 1 will be the tonic, or root note. By playing sequentially, you should hear a complete octave up to the next tongue 1. All you need to do then is match tongue no.1 with a note on say, piano, that will reveal which key the drum is tuned to.

IF... note 1 is C, then each number represents a single letter. If it's G, for example, note 7 will be F♯. Sorry, there has to be a modicum of theory to all this...

That's the key you'll be able to get your friends to play in for you to play along.

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I have a very similar (but smaller) tongue drum in C. The numbers on yours go from 1 to 7, so I'd expect a diatonic scale like mine. That's the "white keys," not a pentatonic scale, which is the "black keys," nor a chromatic scale, which is both.

Most likely 1 is C, 2 is D, and so on up to 7=B. You can confirm this with a tuner like this one (inevitably they'll be out of tune, but don't worry about it). Whatever note corresponds to 1 is the key of your drum, e.g. C Major.

You'll only be able to play music strictly in that key and its modes. Hopefully you can rely on your friends' theory knowledge to make appropriate selections and transpose them into a useful key, but accidentals (which you can't play) are very common, so be patient.

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    PiedPiper deleted their answer, so you might edit to elaborate on the most helpful bit of advice so far, "check the pitches with a tuner" Apr 18 at 13:49
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    @AndyBonner Noted and substantially edited, thanks. Apr 18 at 17:02
  • If indeed it is diatonic in whatever key, none of the parallel modes will be available. Parallels use the same tonic, but then different notes. Think simple parallel major/minor. -1.
    – Tim
    Apr 19 at 6:48
  • @Tim You're right, what's the term I'm thinking of? Blanking. Apr 19 at 13:56
  • ''Strictly in that parent key and its modes'?
    – Tim
    Apr 19 at 14:46

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