Middle Eastern Dance
Care of Riqs, Daffs, and Other Frame Drums

A quality frame drum can be expensive so taking care of it properly is an important part of protecting your investment.  How you take care of your frame drum will depend on what kind of head and body construction it has.  Over the past few decades drums have increasingly been made with mylar heads but you can still buy animal skin headed drums if you have a strong preference for one over the other.  The technique for changing and tightening the two types is very different and availability and ease of changing is also a key difference.

A common method of installing a head is to use a natural skin head which is simply stretched over the frames and glued into place.  The head can be held in place while drying by an extra large rubber binder or tied tightly with a ribbon, sting, or strip of fabric.  They can also be held into place by tacks (either instead of or in addition to gluing) with tacks.  The tacks are inserted around the outside of the rim.  Another method involves holding it into place with a large metal ring which is tightened over the stretched skin and tightened around the frame. On some models there may be a removable assembly which the head is stretched over or into which synthetic heads can be inserted.  These types of assemblies are generally tightened by a series of bolts around the rim.  Animal skin heads can be tightened in two ways.  Since many are glued into place tightening can be more difficult.  If held into place with glue the only method is generally to use heat to tighten it up which will only work for so long before needing to be replaced completely.  In this case you should use a hairdryer on medium to high heat and start closest to the rim and work towards center.  You can also expose it to heat being near a flame (practice fire safety here if your using this method!)  or even a preheated oven which you can open the door and hold the head of the drum nearby.  Nearly any heat source can do it but you have to make sure you don't over expose it to heat or you can weaken or damage the head too much.  Each time you heat a drum head you will shorten its life.  Replacing the head is usually better done by a professional repair shop but you can do it yourself at home if you have enough patience.  You will need to order a skin (usually fish or goat skin) in a large enough size, punch holes, soak and string the head and then center it and carefully tighten and tuck in the right places.  For instructions on how to replace a skin head using simply the gluing method see the video below.  Personally I prefer to just bring my instruments into an Instrument shop and have them do the replacements for me.

If your drum gets dirty wipe of the dirt as soon as you can.  If there is something that cannot come off simply by wiping you will need to give it a little more of a cleaning.  Mother of Pearl inlays are usually covered with a lacquer so you can simply wipe it clean with a damp cloth.  No soap is needed for this just clean water.  If there is sticky residue from a sticker or something else try rubbing it with a little olive oil and wiping clean.  do not use products like Goo-be-gone because it can soften lacquer finishes.  If a colored material is left on for extended periods of time it can discolor the lacquer so make sure you remove things right away.  If you feel the surface has lost it's shine you can rub the drum with beeswax and then buff it.  This should restore the shine.  If you have a metal drum you can just wipe clean with a dry cloth.  If there is any oxidation on it (rust) try to gently sand the rust spot and then you can either frequently apply a metal oil or give it a coat of clear nail polish over the spot in question.  This should keep it from spreading.  Wiping dry after use and keeping it in a fairly dry place and in a case will generally prevent this problem.  Wood drums should be wiped clean with a dry cloth.  If very dirty a small amount of wood cleaner can be used.  Cleaning a mylar head is simple.  You can wipe it with a little water and a mild detergent and then dry it (don't push too hard on it though).  For skin heads you generally just need to wipe it with a dry cloth.  If it's so dirty you can't get it clean with a dry cloth you can use a teeny tiny amount of leather cleaner sparingly to clean dirty spots.  However this is like a lotion and will add moisture to the head and it will need to completely dry for maybe 24 hours or so before playing it again.  It may also need to be re-tightened or heated to return to a good sound so this should be only a last resort.  If the drum has cymbals that need cleaning you can use a brass cleaner applying a small mount to a clean soft cloth and then gently cleaning the cymbal.  If it has metal rings inside you can use a gentle metal cleaner if needed.

Repairs are sometimes necessary to maintaining your drum or at least maintaining it's cosmetic appearance.  If your drum is wood you can repair cracks by using wood glue and tying something around it in order to keep it together till dry.  You could also fill small holes or cracks with a wood putty in a similar shade.  Metal drums aren't as repairable as other types but their also not as easy to damage in the first place.  If your drum has a Mother of Pearl inlay that is popping off, try to save the pieces.  You can glue them back on with with super glue or other strong adhesives.  If it's missing pieces, I like to use nail polish to fill in the missing pieces.  It has to be applied in several layers but it allows you to match colors really well including opalescent colors which will look more like Mother of Pearl.  If you just got it you may want to feel along the bottom for any loose pieces and put a little glue right away.  You can coat it with a thin layer of a poly or clear coat to help the pieces stay in place better if you feel the coating it currently has is too thin or if pieces feel noticeably uneven or loose.

Now that you know how to care for your drum be sure to start practicing with it by visiting our Frame Drum Rhythms page.  Or if your interested in learning more about frame drums you can visit our About Riqs, Daffs, and Other Frame Drums page to read history, differences, and other interesting information about Tablas.
Harem Girl with Tambourine by Joseph Bernard

Egyptian Clay Tabla, Inlaid with Mother of Pearl and Camel bone.  Private Collection.
Harem Girl with Tambourine by Joseph Bernard