Percussion instruments are among the most ancient of all musical instruments. The term itself means “to hit against.” The tambourine certainly falls into that definition, as this shallow, handheld drum is made to be hit against the palm, hip or other portion of the body or shaken in the air to produce its signature thump-and-jingle sound.
The tambourine is usually made by stretching a drumhead over the top of a circular wooden frame, although sometimes the drumhead is left off. Small, circular, metallic discs called jingles are embedded into the frame where they are allowed to move freely against each other when the instrument is played. The bottom of the tambourine is left open. There is typically, but not always, a cut out in the frame to allow easier handling of the instrument.
The tambourine can be found in numerous ancient cultures, including the great empires of Rome, India, China, Greece and Mesopotamia. It is likely that the Crusaders introduced the instrument to Medieval Europe when they returned from the Middle East; it subsequently gained popularity among traveling minstrels. Mozart was among the first of the great classical composers to incorporate the tambourine into orchestral settings.
The tambourine is featured prominently in numerous Bible stories. In the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, Miriam, the older sister of Moses, is described as playing the tambourine to celebrate the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In Biblical references, the tambourine is frequently played during times of celebration, such as weddings, births, military victories and religious ecstasies.
The tambourine appeared as an instrument in modern military bands during the 1800s. It was further popularized in the United Kingdom and the United States when the Salvation Army began to use it prominently during their rallies.
The instrument gained a strong following as a popular folk music instrument during the 1960s. The folk-rock artist Bob Dylan wrote the song “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1964. The song became a major radio hit for the band, The Byrds, and has been recorded by numerous artists since. The tambourine continues to be celebrated in song. Hiphop artist, Eve, released the song and accompanying music video, “Tambourine,” in 2007.