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History of the Tambourine

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Tambourines have a long, rich history that has roots in a wide variety of music. From classical to folk to rock, tambourines are simplistic yet versatile instruments that can really bring a song to life. Check out any Beatles record to see what I mean.

Three-time Grammy award winner Glen Velez is considered one of the most influential percussionists of our time, as well as being responsible for a world-wide resurgence in the popularity of the frame drum.

His teaching and performances inspired the Remo Drum Co. in 1983 to develop a line of frame drums called the Glen Velez Tambourine.

Tambourines are generally handheld instruments with a round, wooden frame and parchment or skinheads; metal disks or bells (called jingles) are inserted into the wooden rim. By striking the head of the tambourine or by shaking it, you set the jingles in motion. Rubbing your hand briskly across the drumhead will produce a whisking noise.

Though an ancient instrument, its structure has remained virtually unchanged. Tambourines were played in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, especially in religious contexts, and they have long been prominent in Middle Eastern folk and religious use. Crusaders took them to Europe in the 13th century. The ancient Romans used it, and in the Middle Ages traveling musicians and entertainers used it. In the 19th century the tambourine became a military-band instrument, appearing later and very occasionally in the orchestra. The timbrel or tabret of the Bible was probably similar to the tambourine.

In Europe, tambourines are associated with both folk and art music repertoire; Mozart was among the earliest western composers to include the tambourine in his compositions. Since the later eighteenth century it has become a more permanent element of the western orchestral percussion section, often used to suggest an exotic or eastern flavor to western audiences, as in Tchaikovsky's Arabian Dance from The Nutcracker Suite. The tambourine is mentioned often in the Old Testament as an instrument of celebration, as here: "Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing."

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