Traditional handcrafted frame drums by CAROLYN HILLYER

The story at the heart of these drums…

Dartmoor Drums was established twenty five years ago, since when Carolyn has been making traditional frame drums that reflect something of the spirit and song of this extraordinary wild landscape. All the materials for these drums are very carefully sourced and everything is created using old (and sometimes very ancient) techniques; nothing is machine-made or mass-produced. Special attention is given to the integrity with which the animal skins are gathered and prepared. All skins are by-products of seasonal culling and would otherwise be wasted; no animal is ever killed just to provide skin for drums. Dartmoor Red Deer skins are sourced from a family-run smallholding and deer forest. Dartmoor Wild Horse skins are sourced from the wild pony herds that live on these hills. We prepare the skins in our small tannery shed on the farm; they are washed and soaked in water from the spring-fed well. Because the gathering of the skins is seasonal, and because the preparation of the skins for rawhide or leather takes 3-6 weeks depending on the weather conditions, the number of drums or leathers that we make in any year is limited. Nearly all of the preparation is done by hand; the final stages of drying the rawhide or finishing the leather are carried out in a small traditional sheepskin tannery on the edge of Dartmoor. The drums are made in a medieval stone barn, dried slowly over several days, then blessed over fire in the neolithic-style roundhouse that we have built on the farm.

The process of creating the drums…

The artisan quality of the materials, and of the making process, have a significant effect on the song that each drum will sing; these are instruments with a lot of spirit! The careful hand-crafting of the skins means that all the individual character and colour textures of the skins are retained; the drum faces are unpainted and beautiful in their simplicity. The drum hoop is made from northern birch wood, prepared in a small family workshop in the north of England; all hoops are 2½”/6cms deep except for large ceremonial drums, which are 4 ½”/11cms deep. The tension ring is wrought by a Dartmoor blacksmith. The ring and handle of the drum are trimmed with red deer or wild horse leather. The drum beater is made from branch wood cut on our Dartmoor farm (usually hazel, willow or ash), sewn with leather & filled with animal hair or sheep fleece. A small Dartmoor totem is hung from the back of the drum (antler bead, horse hair, river stone…) to honour both the drum and the drummer. Each drum is blessed over fire in the ceremonial roundhouse.

When women drum to the north…

This spring Carolyn travelled to Arctic Sweden with her drums to participate in an exhibition called TRUMMA FÖR TRÄD / Women Drum For Trees with northern traditional drum maker Gun Hofgaard, curation and filming by Cedar Shaw, Sámi songs and music by Nina Nordvall Vahlberg. The exhibition is at the beautiful Ájtte Sámi Culture Museum in the small Arctic Circle town of Jokkmokk and runs from March to May 2018. The exhibition enables our drums to honour trees as the foundation of life, crucial in our continued survival on this earth. The meeting of northern reindeer skin drums with the red deer and wild pony drums of Dartmoor celebrates the place where two ancient herding traditions, each born of their raw landscape and deep ancestry, find common ground and shared understanding. There are pictures of the exhibition to follow soon…

Buying a drum…

A note from Carolyn: I have been creating drums to commission for twenty years. During that time I have crafted many hundreds of drums, and taught the making of many huundreds more. All those drums being added to the population of drums being made around the planet; there can never be too many of these ancient and beautiful instruments if we want to change the world! Since working on the individual bespoke drums for my Arctic exhibition during these last winter months, I have decided to change my way of creating and offering drums. Rather than take regular commissions I am going be making drums with individual name, character, purpose and totemic decoration (this does not involve painting the skins, which generally I never do).  The drums I created for the exhibition have included: Copper Moon Drum, Weavers’ Drum, North Drum, White Horse Hill Drum, Wild Horse Herd Drum, Owl Drum and Grandmother Drum, as well as the Drum Fish which was formed from a series of tiny salmon skin drums. I will be making more of these, and others, this year; then they will be offered as they are ready to find a new home, on this page and on our Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving a drum made by me, you are welcome to add you name to our priority information list so that you can know what drum is on offer before it is advertised.

Please note that all drum prices have 20% VAT and courier postage added to the cost. Due to our materials being a limited and carefully prepared resource, we do not sell our rawhide skins or leather separately.  For further information please contact Carolyn –  email Seventh Wave Music


New images will appear here soon – meanwhile here is a summary of just a few of the drums that have been offered during the last ten years.

Travelling Drum small 14″
Forest Drum medium 16″
Fire Circle Drum large 18″
Ceremonial Drum 18″/extra deep hoop
The faces of these drums vary from pale & creamy to golden & shadowy or textured; very good resonant tone with a deeper sound on the larger drums. The forest drum is popular as a first drum because the tone is medium low and it is easy to carry around. Finished with Dartmoor red deer leather and decorated with red deer antler bead.
Small Hills Drum 14″
Medium Hills Drum 16″
Large Hills Drum 18″
Great Hills Drum 18″/extra deep hoop
Very dark brown or amber wild horse skins with sturdy thick texture; can have a flatter resonance so they are good for fast running beats and less sensitive to damp weather. Slightly heavier drums for playing and carrying, especially the ceremonial size. Finished with wild horse or red deer leather and decorated with braided copper and horse hair.
Dark nut brown reindeer skins prepared with traditional techniques in the Arctic. Mottled designs that often suggest the hoof patterns of circling herds on frozen lakes. A bright singing resonance that sometimes gives a metallic icy song. Finished with red alder bark dyed reindeer leather and decorated with antler bead.