The lion’s roar is a friction-based percussion instrument that is often used in sound effect applications, producing a fascinating semi-pitched moaning sound. It is not often sold, but is relatively easy to create.
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The first requirement is a drum. It does not necessarily need to be a high-quality shell; in fact a lion’s roar is a great use for an old shell. The drum should be a tom-tom with a minimum diameter of about twelve inches. The ideal diameter is around sixteen inches—this is large enough to give a satisfyingly low tone while being small enough to avoid the unwieldiness that inherently comes with larger drums. While the depth of the tom-tom is not super important, ensure that it is deep enough to give plenty of room for the tone to resonate. Finally, it does not matter if the tom-tom has one or two heads, as only one will be used in the final product.
The second requirement is a drum head. Again, this is a great use for an older head. Avoid using double-ply heads, as the separation of the plies can cause problems when the hole is cut in the head later in the process. Furthermore, thicker heads are generally better. In addition to being less durable, thinner heads have a more brittle tonal quality to them instead of the full-bodied timbre that is desired. The Remo Fiberskyn heads are a fantastic choice—thick, single-ply heads with a texturing that translates into a darker, more complex aural texture.
Now, a hole must be cut in the center of the head. There is not really a perfect way to do this; simply use an X-acto knife, an awl, or another similar tool to make a small hole (no more than a quarter inch across) in the center of the head. If possible, try to make the cut in such a way that it will not rip and spread—round out corners or make additional cross-cuts to take pressure off of the slits.
The head must now be put on the drum and tuned. It should not be tuned very high, as the desired sound is deeper and more complex than the more focused sound heard when the drum is tuned high. As an easy strategy to achieve a satisfactory tuning, after putting the head and rim on, hand tighten all of the tension rods. Put pressure on the center of the head with your hand; this will cause the head to crinkle up in a wavy texture around the edges. Slowly tune the drum up until this waviness is gone and the head is smooth.
The final piece of the instrument itself is the cord. This piece should be at least thirty inches long. It should be smooth and preferably water-resistant. Additionally, a firmer, stiffer cord is better. The pictured example is a twisted rawhide cord.
The cord is now strung through the hole in the drumhead. A knot needs to be created in the cord to prevent it from pulling all of the way through the hole. Often, the knot will have to be tied around an object (the pictured example uses a small wooden dowel) to ensure that it is large enough to prevent being pulled through.
Apply rosin to the cord. Since the instrument produces vibrations by friction, the addition of rosin greatly eases the playing of the instrument. Simply use bow rosin from a stringed instrument; in the case that no rosin is available, beeswax or another similar material can be an adequate replacement.
The lion’s roar can now be played. However, it is much easier to play if hung from a frame. Two more lengths of cord will be needed for this; because it is cheap, small, flexible, and strong, nylon parachute cord is an ideal choice. The specific strategy for hanging the drum can vary. If the drum only has one set of lugs, then the cord must simply be looped between the tension rods and the drum. If the drum has two sets of lugs, however, it can be better to hang the drum from the unused set of lugs. Unscrew four lugs from the inside of the drum—two adjacent lugs and the two adjacent lugs opposite them. When the lugs are screwed back on, trap the cord between the lug and the shell so that it cannot move.
Take the loops of cord and hang them on a frame. If the cords are simply wrapped around the tension rods, the head will be on the top of the drum and the friction cord will be hanging down with the knotted end on top of the head. If the cords are held by the second set of lugs, the head will be facing down and the knotted side of the friction cord will be inside the drum.
To play, pull your hand down the friction cord, causing it and thus the head to vibrate. An easy way to get a good, consistent sound is to take a towel or paper towel and get it thoroughly wet, but not dripping. Squeeze the towel around the friction cord and pull down.