Bamileke drummers in Cameroon's West Province.

A slit drum or slit gong is a hollow percussion instrument. In spite of its often being called a drum, it is not a true drum because it lacks a drumhead, the membrane stretched across the top of a true drum. It is classed instead as an idiophone in which the entire instrument vibrates.


A slit drum is usually carved or constructed from bamboo or wood, in the form of a mostly closed hollow chamber with one or more slits in it. It is played by striking near the edge of the slit. In some designs, the slit is a single straight line; in others, the slit is used to create one or more "tongues", achieved by cutting three sides of a rectangular (or similar) shape and leaving the fourth side attached. Most slit drums have one slit, though two and three slits (often resembling an "H" and thereby forming two tongues) occur. Tongues of different areas or thicknesses will produce different pitches. Slit drums are used throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. In Africa such drums, strategically situated for optimal acoustic transmission (e.g., along a river or valley), have been used for long-distance communication.[1]

The ends of a slit drum are closed so that the shell becomes the resonating chamber for the sound vibrations created when the tongues are struck, usually with a stick or mallet. The resonating chamber increases the volume of the sound produced by the tongue and presents the sound through an open port. If the resonating chamber is the correct size for the pitch being produced by the tongue, which means it has the correct volume of airspace to complete one full sound wave for that particular pitch, the instrument will be more efficient and louder.

The people of Vanuatu create a similar instrument out of a large log. In most islands, the drum lies horizontally on the ground.[2] In the central islands, slit drums are erected vertically, and adorned with carvings on the outer surface, representing spirits. While traditional on one island only, this adorned type of drums have become one of the national emblems of Vanuatu as a whole.

Chromatically tuned slit drums, range C3–C4

List of slit drums







Wooden fish

The wooden fish works like a slit drum but is rarely classified with the other slit drums.


See also


  1. ^ Hart, Mickey; p. 52
  2. ^ See p.77-78 of François & Stern (2013).
  3. ^ "Lukombé (slit drum) | Tetela, Kasai or Kusu". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  4. ^ "Gato drum". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2023.
  5. ^ Mercurio, Philip Dominguez (2006). "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines". PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang – A home for Pasikings. Retrieved 12 June 2006.