The 10 Best Tambourines
10. LED Flashing
9. Tosnail Handheld
8. Cyclops Dimpled Brass
7. RhythmTech True Colors
6. YMC Percussion Foot
5. Edushape Halilit Toddler
4. Remo Fiberskyn Quadura
3. Remo Radiant
2. Cajon Player's Foot
1. YMC Half Moon
To Have A Head Or Not Have A Head: Tambourine Edition
Depending on who you ask, the tambourine can be thought of as an amusing toy for young children, or a serious instrument for the accomplished musician. Some tambourines produce short, tinny sounds while others produce both a rhythmic drumbeat as well as rich, clear notes. There is no right or wrong choice of tambourine in the larger sense; one must merely know by whom the instrument will be played (or played with, as the case may be) and then choose a unit that suits the age, skills, and intent of its user. Simply put, you have to know whether you're looking for a musical toy or a genuine instrument.
Toy tambourines are a great way to introduce children to the basic concepts underlying all music, such as rhythm and melody. As these instruments can be played either to keep the tempo (colloquially referred to as the "beat") or a song or to accent its tune or harmony, they offer a diversity of playing options impressive for such a simple device. Many smaller options are perfectly suited for the smaller hands of a child, and a person looking for a gift or teacher outfitting a musical classroom can select an instrument made from a range of different materials. For the infant or young toddler, a plastic tambourine is often the wisest choice, as its durable construction can stand up to drops, bumps, and bites, and as their often bright coloration attracts the eye and the interest. These options usually produce sharper, shorter notes that sound more like a metallic clank than a musical note, however.
Fortunately, many tambourines featuring genuinely musical jangles (the metal discs that click together to produce the unmistakable sound of a tambourine and which are also known as zils) are lightweight, durable, and low cost enough to be handed over to a young child without much concern either for the child hurting himself or herself or for damaging the object. Consider starting a child with a basic plastic toy type of option, then offering him or her a tambourine that also features a drum-style membrane -- often called the head or skin -- stretched across a circular body. This latter option is what most musicians consider a "real" instrument and can serve as a bridge from play to the practice of actual musical skill.
For the more serious musician, a basic tambourine with jangles but without a head is suitable for adding some percussive accents to a song. These basic options are especially popular for the singer whose principal instrument is his or her voice. However, anyone in search of a bonafide instrument that can be used not only to support the band but to indeed add another layer to the sound of a song, a tambourine complete with a taut membrane is a must. These instruments can be played with a different array of hand and finger positions, with the drum head dampened, silenced, or allowed to resonate fully, and with the jangles controlled based on the angle at which the unit is held.
From Timbrel To Tambourine, A Brief History
Anyone familiar with the Jewish tradition -- either from lifelong devotion or simply from attending a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, will likely have heard songs celebrating people "dancing with their timbrels," most notably from a joyous song about the prophet Miriam. The tambourine -- frequently referred to as a timbrel in antiquity -- was a principal instrument of the ancient Hebrew peoples, as it was among many cultures of centuries past.
Likely first developed in Egypt, the use of tambourines either spread to or was independently adopted by peoples all around the ancient world. We see musicians playing such instruments on black figure terra-cotta amphorae from Ancient Greece (the style dates principally to the 7th, 6th, and 5th centuries BCE) and in artwork from across the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, and beyond.
Instruments approximating the basic tambourine went by many names in days gone by, including the daf, the kanjira, the t'ar, and the rabana, just to name a few. Tambourines were popular instruments for many reasons (many of which still hold true), with their relative ease of construction being one major factor. They were also popular simple because of their ease of play and portability.
As opposed to an instrument requiring tuning of strings for proper sound, hammers or bows for use in playing, or even much practice prior to competence, a tambourine is played as-is and by hand. They are generally lightweight, compact, and durable, all of which were ideal especially for nomadic or semi-peripatetic societies. While tambourines originated in the ancient world, it remains popular today.
The Greatest Songs Of All Time, And Their Tambourines
"Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man," go the opening lyrics of a song written and composed by Nobel laureate Bob Dylan in 1965 and made into a massive hit when recorded by The Byrds later that same year. In fact, the song reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and remains popular today, routinely included on lists of the greatest songs of all time.
While Mr. Tambourine Man may feature the most prominent mention of the musical instrument in recent memory, it is hardly the only occurrence of this elegantly simple object in recent music. The instrument arguable enjoyed a heyday in the 1960s, providing added sparkle to hits such as Time Won't Let Me by The Outsiders and The Beatles's Got to Get You Into My Life, to name two prominent examples by celebrated bands.
There was still plenty of tambourine playing throughout the later decades of the 1900s, though. Celebrated hits of the 1980s like Pictures of You by The Cure and With or Without You by U2 used the crisp jangles of the instrument to help add texture and power to their composition, often allowing the tambourine's jangles to work in concert with the snap of the snare drum.
A recent return to music inspired by folk sounds of the early and middle years of the 20th century has ushered in a resurgence of use of the tambourine, as evidenced by the music of hit-making ensembles such as Mumford and Sons and even in the recent music of Snoop Dogg.