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Tongue drums are amazing percussion instruments that allow you to play sweet and soothing melodies without needing to have much musical knowledge.
You can use them in small percussion groups, or you can use them in meditative settings, such as yoga classes or music therapy. They’re like handpans in many ways, but they’re a lot more affordable.
Here are some of the best available tongue drums from high-profile percussion brands.
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Meinl Sonic Energy Steel Tongue Drum – A Minor – Best Overall
The Meinl Sonic Energy A Minor Steel Tongue Drum (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is one of the best tongue drums to buy on the market. It demonstrates the peak of Meinl Sonic Energy’s craftsmanship, making it a good option to own.
It’s a 12-inch tongue drum with eight notes that form an A Minor scale. The notes in A Minor allow you to create melodies that are introspective and somber. This makes it an incredible tongue drum to use in meditative environments. You can play melodies that are very moving, but you can also play a few hopeful ones.
The size is perfect for people wanting a full-sized tongue drum that is thick and resonant. You can hold it in your lap while playing, but you can also easily place it in front of you to play with mallets.
This tongue drum comes with rubber mallets that are 11.25”. They have thick handles to grip, but they have thin plastic shafts to make them feel lighter to play with.
You also get one of Meinl Sonic Energy’s tongue drum carry bags. It’s very similar to a snare drum bag, having a tight space for the tongue drum to fit in to keep it safe. It has a zipper to keep it secure, and then you can carry it with the handle.
The durability of these Meinl Sonic Energy tongue drums is something to point out. They’re impressively built, meaning this A Minor version will last you many years of solid playing.
Tuning: A Minor
Included Notes: E, D, C, A, A, G, D, C
Pearl Awakening Series 9 Note Tongue Drum – C Ake Bono – Premium Option
The Pearl Awakening Series 9 Note C Ake Bono Tongue Drum (Sweetwater) is a premium option to consider. It costs the most out of any option from this list, but it has qualities that make its price well worth it.
It’s a 9-note tongue drum, meaning it has a central bass in the middle and the steps of the scale surrounding it. This design is very similar to a handpan. The scale here is C Ake Bono, which is a Japanese scale that sounds very mystical and mysterious.
I love the inclusion of a note in the center of the tongue drum. It makes it easy to play certain melodies that include the bottom note and sound amazing. You could even continually tap the center note and alternate with other notes around it one at a time to create a suspenseful song.
This tongue drum is 10”, making it seem a bit small for its high price. However, it has a lot more resonance and richness of tone than you’d expect a tongue drum of this size to have. The notes sing out beautifully.
It has a protective finish that keeps it shining throughout its lifespan. The dual color finish is also quite appealing. With this particular C Ake Bono tongue drum, you have purple coloring at the bottom and natural steel coloring at the top.
You get standard rubber mallets included to play the drum with. They’re perfectly balanced, making them light to play with but still getting enough force from them for loud notes.
Tuning: C Ake Bono
Included Notes: G, C, Eb, Ab, D, Eb, C, G, D
Meinl Sonic Energy Mini Steel Tongue Drum – B Major – Best Budget Option
While it has a lower price tag, that’s mainly due to its size and not its quality. The Meinl Sonic Energy Mini tongue drums are designed with the same materials as the larger ones. They’re just smaller and more accessible to potential tongue drum enthusiasts.
This tongue drum is 5.5”, making it incredibly compact and portable. Its size requires you to play it on a table or somewhere where you can comfortably reach all the notes.
It has six notes that form a B Major Pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scales include five notes, so you get an extra B note on this tongue drum. The scale sounds quite vibrant and happy, making it an excellent tongue drum to get if you’re not looking for the melancholic and ethereal sounds that they’re mostly known for.
This tongue drum comes with rubber mallets that feel great to play with. I love the look natural wood shafts that they have.
You also get a light drawstring bag to put the tongue drum in. It’s not the most protective bag in the world, but the tongue drum is small enough to stay safe from getting damaged when carrying it around in the bag.
The downside of this small tongue drum is that you’re limited with the number of notes. All tongue drums are limited with what you can play, but only having five notes steps those limitations up a notch.
Tuning: B Pentatonic Major
Included Notes: B, C#, D#, F#, G#, B
X8 Drums Reggae Rasta Tongue Drum – A Ake Bongo
The X8 Drums Reggae Rasta Tongue Drum (compare price on Amazon and Guitar Center) is the wildcard option on this list. The first thing you’ll notice about it is its design and color scheme. This tongue drum pays tribute to Bob Marley, having a picture of him on the surface of the instrument.
It’s not something that everyone will think looks amazing, as some people may prefer the standard clean look of most tongue drums. However, this is an epic collector’s piece for reggae and Bob Marley fans.
This tongue drum is 11”, and it has notes tuned to an A Ake Bono scale. It’s another tongue drum on the list with this Japanese scale, but this one sounds a lot more vibrant, lending better to the Jamaican them.
This tongue drum is a bit more affordable than the other large ones on this list because it doesn’t come with as many accessories. The only addition is a set of rubber mallets. They feel great in your hands, and the sound they get out of the tongue drum is fairly strong.
Unfortunately, you don’t get a bag or carry case to put the tongue drum in, meaning you’ll need to buy one separately to keep this drum safe when moving it around.
Tuning: A Ake Bono
Included Notes: A, F, E, C, C, B, B, A
Pearl Awakening Series Tongue Drum – G Major Mode
The Pearl Awakening Series G Major Mode Tongue Drum (compare prices on Sweetwater and Amazon) is another excellent tongue drum option from Pearl’s popular Awakening line. This one only has eight notes, making it slightly more affordable than the premium option that has nine.
It’s tuned to a G Major Mode. The notes are a bit brighter than what you’d find in any minor scale, but they still produce a mysterious group of sounds that make this tongue drum work in both happy and meditative settings. It’s the type of tongue drum that makes you want to play it when it’s raining outside.
I’m also surprised at how good this tongue drum sound when you play it with your fingers. The tones are very rich and resonant, and their musicality comes out at the slightest touches. This puts it at the top of the list for people who want a tongue drum to purely play with their fingers.
The included rubber mallets are decent, but they don’t feel as good to use as some of the other rubber mallets from competing brands.
This tongue drum also doesn’t come included with a bag to hold it in, so you’ll need to buy that separately.
Tuning: G Major Mode
Included Notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
Meinl Sonic Energy Small Tongue Drum – G Minor
The Meinl Sonic Energy G Minor Small Tongue Drum (compare prices on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) is another fantastic option in Meinl Sonic Energy’s small tongue drum line. It’s a bit bigger than any of their mini tongue drums, making it a good middle-ground option between the two extremes of large and small.
This tongue drum is 7”, and it has eight notes that form a G Minor scale. While it has the same number of notes as most large tongue drums, they don’t resonate as long. That makes this tongue drum sound a bit more aggressive.
The G Minor scale is thought-provoking and hopeful. You can play some amazing tunes that set a mood of hopefulness and excitement. This makes it a great tongue drum to play songs that are almost motivational in their sound.
The size makes it too small to play in your lap, so you need to place it on something in front of you and use the rubber mallets provided. Since the drum is small and shallow, it doesn’t sound amazing when played with your fingers. You’ll get more out of it when playing it with the mallets.
It comes with the same drawstring carry bag that the Meinl Sonic Energy’s mini tongue drums come with, so you’ll be able to keep it safely stored away when you’re not using it.
I’m a big fan of the color of this tongue drum. It’s a charcoal blue color that looks very strong in its appearance. Most of the other small tongue drums from Meinl Sonic Energy are bright and colorful, but this one blends into your environment a bit more.
Tuning: G Minor
Included Notes: G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G
What To Look For In A Tongue Drum
One of the biggest benefits of tongue drums is that they have fairly similar designs and concepts as handpans, but they come at a fraction of the price. There are many clear differences as well, but many people gravitate toward them instead of handpans for this reason.
However, there is still a lengthy price range between budget and professional tongue drums. You should be aware of the differences between them when buying one, as the price of a tongue drum will tell you how good it sounds and how durable it is.
Cheaper tongue drums don’t resonate as much, and their tones are quite stiff. Some even have certain notes on them with harsh overtones. After listening to tongue drums being played for a while, you should be able to hear the difference between a cheap and expensive one.
Higher-priced tongue drums have a lot more depth to their tones. They sing for longer, and they’re more musically expressive. The higher sense of musicality makes them better for meditative purposes as they fit better into that context.
Cheaper tongue drums are great options for beginners or children to use. If you want to get a high-quality instrument that sounds great and will last very long, you should get a mid to high-priced one.
The other difference between tongue drums and handpans is that tongue drums are a lot smaller. Most of them range from 5” to 15”, with the most common size being around 12” for a high-quality tongue drum.
Tongue drums smaller than 10” are commonly known as “mini” or “small” tongue drums, whereas ones over 10” are simply referred to as standard tongue drums.
The most notable thing about smaller tongue drums is that they have higher-pitched and more shrill tones. All the tones from tongue drums are quite high-pitched, but the smaller ones have even brighter tones than the standard ones.
Standard tongue drums are more expensive, and they have more resonance from their notes. Since they’re larger, they also have more notes to play most of the time. Small tongue drums typically have five to seven notes, while standard tongue drums have eight or nine.
Another thing to think about when choosing tongue drum size is portability. Small tongue drums are naturally a lot easier to carry around. You can fit them into backpacks or bags, whereas larger tongue drums need their own bags to be carried around. That’s the one big benefit that small tongue drums have over standard ones.
Every tongue drum is tuned to a certain scale. It produces tones that make that scale, and you won’t be able to play any notes that don’t fall within that. While this limits what you can do with tongue drums, it’s also what makes them so easy to play.
So, you need to choose what scale you want when buying a tongue drum, as that’s the main determining factor of how it’s going to sound.
Major and minor are your main types of scales. Major scales on tongue drums sound very happy and upbeat, while minor scales sound a bit more mysterious and mystical.
Many people prefer minor scales on tongue drums as they sound better in the context of meditation and sound therapy. However, an upbeat tongue drum can sound great when playing music on a beach or any similar setting.
If you want to have more than one scale, you’ll need to buy multiple tongue drums. My suggestion would be to get one that has a major scale and one with a minor scale. After that, you could get a mini tongue drum to add even more variety to your collection.
The last thing to note with scales is that most tongue drums come with numbered stickers to place around the notes. These help you identify the steps of the scales, making playing the tongue drum even easier to learn.
Styling isn’t the most important thing in the world, but it’s something to think about when buying a tongue drum. Tongue drums come in various colors and designs, so you should choose one that you like the look of.
Standard tongue drums that are between 10 and 15” generally have similar depths. The smaller ones differ between brands, so look out for designs that you gravitate toward. Just remember to choose a scale and size first before choosing a design that you like.
You’ll also find different designs in the bags that come with the tongue drums. Before looking at cosmetics, look to see if the design of the carry bag is high-quality or not. Getting a premium carry bag is important in keeping your tongue drum in pristine condition.
Small tongue drums typically have drawstring bags, while standard ones have full-sized cases with zippers and pouches.
The main accessory to look out for when buying a tongue drum is a set of mallets to play it with. You can play a tongue drum with both your hands and mallets, but unlike handpans, tongue drums tend to sound a lot better when played with mallets.
Some mallets have rubber tips, while others have wool tips. You’ll find that the majority of tongue drums come with rubber-tipped mallets, but I suggest investing in a pair of wool mallets as well.
The harder the rubber is on the mallets, the more aggressive the tongue drum sound will be. It can sometimes be very valuable to have softer mallets for subtler, more therapeutic sounds. This is especially true in environments where the tongue drum is being played for relaxational purposes.
Some tongue drums also come with pure wooden sticks to play them with. These will provide the most aggressive sound compared to rubber and wool mallets.
It’s quite common for tongue drums to come included with a rubber plug on the bottom. When you remove it, the resonance increases, causing the tongue drum to sound a bit louder. Not all tongue drums have this, so it’s a great accessory to look out for.
Most tongue drums come with song books that give you short tutorials on how to play songs with the scale on the specific drum that you purchased. I think these are amazing for beginner players to get playing something as quickly as possible.
Best Tongue Drum Brands
Do you want to ensure that you’re getting a tongue drum from a reliable brand? Check all of these brands out.
Meinl Sonic Energy
Meinl Sonic Energy is the therapeutic percussion division of Meinl Percussion. All the Meinl Sonic Energy instruments are designed for meditative and healing purposes.
They’re all top-quality instruments, no matter which price range they fall under. So, Meinl Sonic Energy is one of the best tongue drum brands to buy a tongue drum from.
X8 Drums is a brand that specializes in creating world percussion instruments. They have a long list of instruments available, such as tongue drums, handpans, and djembes.
They’re based in Texas, making them a great American percussion brand to purchase instruments from.
Pearl is one of the most popular brands in the world that sells drums and percussion instruments. Many of their products are the most popular options in their categories, and their Pearl Awakening line is an amazing set of meditative handpans and tongue drums.
Pearl is another brand that has incredibly consistent quality amongst all their products, making them a reliable option to go with.
Top Tongue Drums, Final Thoughts
If you get a tongue drum from one of the three brands that I’ve mentioned above, you’ll be more than happy with your purchase.
Remember to choose a scale that you love the sound of before buying one. You may find yourself buying multiple tongue drums to play different scales. Different mallets help as well.
Once you fall in love with the sound of this instrument, there’s no going back!