How to make a Chinese Pellet Drum

If you are of my generation you will remember the scene in Karate Kid II where a Chinese Drum is used to great effect in the climax of the story. Actually I’ve just checked Wikipedia and seen that the one in the movie is a Den-Den Daiko, which is Japanese, but pellet drums exist across vast swathes of Eastern culture, so I’m guessing I can call this a Chinese Drum.

Anyway, the Karate Kid inspired my father to make my brothers and I some pellet drums from a few La Vache Qui Rit boxes when we were children and I have carried that memory for a very long time. When Red Ted Art recently set a musical instrument challenge, I knew that this was what I wanted to make.

how to make a pellet drum

You can use any round cheese box with two halves. I ended up using two lids from plastic containers. You need them to fit well together leaving a hollow gap between the two for acoustic purposes if you do. It’s why cheese boxes work so well.

One you have your ‘drum ‘ you need a handle: mine is an old paintbrush, but a wooden spoon or dowel would also work. Make sure it is smooth and comfortable as you roll this between your palms to make the sound.

You need a length of ribbon or string which is about double the width of the cheese box, and you need to tie buttons or beads to each end.

These are the three primary components.

First off you will need to cut a small hole in the side of your box- a semi-circle in both halves- that will accommodate the handle. Once you have done this, then lay one side of the box face down on the table. Place the handle in place through the hole: if it’s long enough it should stretch all the way to the upper edge of the inside of the box for support, but this is not essential. Next, lay the string or ribbon across the box at right angle to the handle with an even amount of string hanging over each edge.

This is how you need to seal the box up. Glue the handle in place, then the two edges of the string or ribbon, then finally glue the other section of the drum on top, flat edge facing you, with the string and handle sealed inside. Leave to dry.

pellet drum how to

This, essentially is your drum, which you play by rolling the handle between your two palms, ‘drum’ sticking up like a giant lollipop. As the ‘drum’ carcass rotates, the two ends of string will spin from side to side and the beads/buttons on their exposed ends will strike each drum face creating the noise..

To make mine more robust I ended up using papier mache to cover the drum which I painted when dry. You should then seal the colour with a varnish/PVA topcoat as the paint will flake if the drum gets a lot of use.

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