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When Eve rapped about “shaking your tambourine” in her Swizz Beatz-produced song of the same name, we don’t think she was referring to music. Still, whether you’re making money moves or hyping up a crowd, few things are as crowd-pleasing as giving your frame a good shake.
Part of the percussion family of instruments, the earliest records of a tambourine actually date all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, with some believing that the circular, wooden instrument served multiple purposes — as a call to worship, for celebrations, and to scare away evil spirits.
These days, you’ll most likely find tambourines as part of a band setup, used to accent the guitar rhythm or drum beat, or in some cases, used in place of a drum itself. Because the tambourine isn’t a pitched instrument (I.e. tuned to play different notes), it’s often considered a secondary instrument, used to add color to a performance rather than towing the melodic line.
A tambourine is typically made of wood or plastic, that is shaped into a circular frame. Small metal sheets, called “jingles” or “zills,” are evenly slotted into the frame. Part of the frame is left unadorned; that is where a hand grip is typically placed.
The best tambourines will give off a bright, jangly rattle as you shake the frame or slap it against your thighs or palms of your hand. Some tambourines come with a drumhead that you can strike with your hand or a mallet. Either way, the sound should be resonant, loud and distinct.
A tambourine can be hand-held (see artists like Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks) to help a band keep the beat, or to add some expressiveness to a performance. Drummers also use tambourines, mounting them to their high-hat stand as part of a drum kit.
When buying a tambourine, consider what you’re using it for. The best tambourines should be lightweight, comfortable to hold (even for prolonged periods) and easy to play. A basic tambourine will have one style of “jingles,” but some on our list have jingles made from two different materials, creating a more unique sound as the opposing materials “clash” on the frame.
Finally, make sure your tambourine is sturdy and durable. With all the shaking going on, you’re bound to have a few drops every now and then. The best tambourines should stay in-tact, even it they occasionally miss your hands, and hit the ground.
1. Meinl Percussion TMT1M-WH Dual Alloy Combo Tambourine
This popular tambourine delivers a unique sound, thanks to a mix of both steel and brass jingles along the plastic frame. Meinl says the brass jingles are darker and warmer in sound, while the steel jingles are sharp and bright.
This tambourine is made from a durable ABS plastic, that won’t warp or fade from sweat or weather. A comfortable foam handle gets you an ergonomic grip for easy playing over an extended period of time.
Meinl says the circular frame is durable “for even the heaviest hitters” and that there is enough space along the edges for the tambourine to be hit with a stick or mallet as well.
PROS: Large, mixed jingles produce loud and expressive sound. Padded handle is comfortable to hold and control.
CONS: This is made from a composite material, not wood. Some prefer the more natural sound of a wood frame. Some users also found this heavier than expected.
2. Remo TA-5210-70 Fiberskyn Tambourine
Remo’s Fiberskyn Tambourine adds a layer of synthetic material over the traditional tambourine frame, giving you more versatility in playing different styles and sounds.
The 10-inch tambourine features eight pairs of jingles and a sturdy frame made from Remo’s proprietary “Acousticon” shell (basically a composite material made from multiple thin plies of recycled wood-fiber and injected resin). Remo says the material is denser, thicker and stronger than regular wood or plastic.
The drum head, meantime, is made from Remo’s “Fiberskyn” film, which delivers a warm, soft tone. To borrow a drummer term, this tambourine comes “pre-tuned,” meaning the film has already been fitted and tightened around the circular frame.
Remo is one of the leaders in percussive instruments with more than 60 years of manufacturing experience.
PROS: The addition of the drum head gets you warmer, more muted tones, while the jingles are silvery and festive.
CONS: Some say this is best for light to medium playing; a heavier hand could bruise the drum head.
3. Luvay 9″ Double Row Tambourine
This uniquely-designed tambourine is easy to use and great for all types of music, from pop to jazz to hymns at church.
This set gets you a double row of jingles, with 20 pieces in total. The ergonomic handle is wide and thick, with dedicated placements for your fingers to ensure that you never lose your grip.
The high-impact plastic holds up to repeated use and the tambourine itself weighs just a little over 10 ounces, making it super easy to carry and to travel with.
PROS: Great beginner and casual tambourine that’s easy to play.
CONS: Handle is not padded. Some users say sound is not as full or consistent as other options on this list.