An ode to the tambourine

After worship this morning, I felt compelled to share my deep and abiding respect for an often-overlooked worship tool.

Ah, the tambourine. That venerable praise instrument: there is no other instrument that so quickly ushers us directly into the presence of God. And, the tambourine is the only remaining praise instrument to be handed down, generation after generation, from the times of Jesus, all the way to our modern worship services.

Originally made of large dried segments of gourd with small, paired pieces of hand-hewn metal tied on with leather strips, the tambourine is much like the gospel: ever-changing, yet always the same. The modern word tambourine is a derivation of the original Hebrew words tambler (meaning “to shake”) and shourine (meaning “earnest”). Throughout the ages, praise leaders have found this ever-changing, always-the-same God-shaker to be the tipping point between mere singing and true worship.

Proper use of the tambourine in praise leadership has been highly refined over the years, and can be seen in many hillsong-influenced cultures around the globe today: first, it’s helpful to have a high-tech tambourine, the kind made of composite materials, in the shape of a crescent, with a polyurethane hi-grip/no slip handle weighted close to the middle. Second, there are only two effective body positions for a praise leader utilizing the tambourine:
a. Big smile, big eyes, bouncing at the knees and a mock-rock eagerness. This is used for upbeat songs, and calling the worshipping audience to intensified emotional excitement. It has a similar effect as slapping one’s knees in front of a dog and saying, “here boy, here boy,” which is why it looks so similar.
b. The second effective body position while tambo-leading is used for slower songs (worship, instead of praise). Every aspect of this is essential (as is clearly seen by its universal global usage). First, the worship leader’s eyes must be closed. Open eyes communicate to the audience that you’re not really focusing on God. Closed eyes = sincerity. Second, one hand (obviously, not the one holding the mic) must occasionally be raised throughout the entire song (the only exception to this rule is when that same hand must be used to give signals to the praise band). Admittedly, this is tricky to do while playing a tambourine, and practice, in front of a mirror, is encouraged. Two effective ways (not really rules) for adding flourish and power to this position are: tilt the head slightly, and – for that little added worship push – point one finger on the mic-holding hand toward heaven. This reminds the audience of whom you are singing about.

We can only speculate about the future of this truly anointed praise instrument. Electric tambourines? Digital tambourines? Tambourine “machines”? Who can say (except the Lord)? What we can be sure of is that the tambourine will be around for years to come, and will be a centerpiece in our glory-day praise in heaven one day. Shake it!

12 thoughts on “An ode to the tambourine”

  1. shake it…like a polaroid picture!

    My former Pastor didn’t share your love for this often misunderstood instrument of anointing: Being a Vineyard church, we would often be visited by “special people” who would share their love of worship and their complete lack of rhythm by breaking out their tamborine and playing it among the congregation. When my Pastor would hear that familiar off beat jangling, As if suddenly smelling smoke while you sleep, he would perk up, resembling a Cocker Spaniel spotting a pheasant in a field of tall grass. Amid the sea of swaying heads, you’d see him pop up like a sonar guided jack ‘n the box. Like a hound treeing a raccoon, his ears would sniff their way to the offending instrument, where he would kindly ask them, out of respect to their fellow worshippers, to cease as desist and invite them to audition for the worship team if they wanted to play an instrument during worship. Often these special ones would become very offended and leave in a huff, proclaiming “Icabod” over our church as they left. Ahhh, those were the days.

  2. I have crazy memories of a 60 something hippy woman at a chruch where I was youth pastor rocking out with a tamborine. She was a great mussican but kind of over did it with a tamborine. One sunday evening when she was leading worship the kid that set up the sound system tyed differant pieces of cloth over the mic stands. I thought she maybe offended but knew she had a great spirit and watched here reaction. It amuzed her as she swang the mic stand a few times while leading worship. Man I miss random praise and worship. Peace bro. – Sam

  3. actually you can make a tambourine electric by simply nailing a stick down the middle and putting a pickup on it and pluggin it in to the amplifier

  4. Hi.i’m aissa from the phil. I’ve been a tambo dancer for years since I was 13 years old. I’m 29 now and have two kids but still manage to teach tambourine dancing. It’s a warfare believe me.I’ve got lots to tell why. Pls. email me and you’ll find it really is worth beating up and dancing with timbrels.

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