Paper Drums


These nestable drums are akin to the frame drums found in many cultures, but rather than the traditional hide skins that are more usual, the Paper Drums have skins of – you guessed it! – paper. But not any old paper.

You might think that paper skins would not last long. Quite the opposite. Since I made these drums in 1991, I have yet to replace a skin (or a page).

They are not usually played with sticks, more with soft beaters or the palm of the hand. They have a remarkable palette of sound colours and each size is about a fourth away from the next in tuning. They can also be made into a kit by using the turned leg-clamps and joined together at the edges in any configuration that works for the player. (See photo above). The pitches can be tweaked live by placing a candle underneath the kit, which makes an interesting visual spectacle.


Dave Sawyer
Dave Sawyer, Harry and Guy Evans at Ox’s Cross, N Devon, 1980

The drums came from an idea while I was working with Dave Sawyer and Guy Evans in Devon in the early 80’s. Dave developed a simple technique of attaching strong paper as a skin to wood without wrinkles which would spoil the sound, and made a square paper drum that made sea sounds.
I took this basic idea and made a few sets of drums that stacked inside one another – for ease of transport.
In essence they sound like large versions of frame drums, but as any world music percussionist will know, there is an almost infinite number of variations within that category alone. In use in the studio they are well matched to acoustic guitar and voice in volume and have deep and sonorous tone reminiscent of tympani when close mic’d.


The paper may be played with paint brushes. They then produce a bright and refreshingly ‘organic ‘ sound when compared to plastic skins.
There is a double-headed drum which makes the sound of waves and thunder, but with more control of wave motion than the conventional Brazilian circular wave drum.
The pentagonal shape was chosen for its partial symmetry and allows the drums to be mounted together in a stable configuration. The shape changes the nature of the fundamental pitch and creates sets of harmonics unobtainable with conventional round frame drums.
These drums are available for use at Spring Studio, or if you are really interested, you could have your own.


Paper drums feature on this instrumental – Snowflake over the Ocean

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