Whale Drum

Whale Drum

(Tank Drum, Tongue Drum)

8 pitches.

A whale drum is made from a hollow metal tank; tongue shapes are cut out on the dome on the top to produce various pitches.

Emil Richards acquired his whale drum in the early 1980s from Jim Doble, an instrument craftsman in Maine. He subsequently used the whale drum on countless soundtracks, often to underscore mysterious scenes. The multiple, irregular overtones contribute to the instrument’s ominous sound and lack of distinct pitch. He often used soft mallets to achieve the desired timbre, and avoided playing hard, as it de-tuned the tongues.

Composers usually would not write specific parts for the whale drum, but notate sections of improvisation within the score. Although Emil’s whale drum had eight tongues, it was used more as a sound or timbre rather than as a pitched, melodic instrument.


  • Land of the Lost, Never Trust a Dude

    Listen for the the very dark, metallic whale drum in this clip from Land of the Lost (2009) by Michael Giacchino.

Please note: these are just examples, as playing technique and mallet/stick choices often have a great effect on the timbre.

These sound excerpts, to the best of our knowledge (unless otherwise noted), include this actual instrument from our collection. To hear the instrument yourself, or to let us know of any errors, please contact us.