Over the decades, some of the weirdest, most wonderful, and downright wacky instruments of the world have come to the fore and made their mark on mainstream music. Who can forget Rolf Harris with his Didgeridoo and Wobble Board? These almost unheard of Aussie instruments now have a place in everyone’s heart, and we could all recognize one almost immediately.
The same goes for the Spanish maracas, the Scottish bagpipes, and even the Indian sitar. These unique, traditional, and quirky instruments are now common place all over the world. Many of them have also found their way into mainstream music, topping the charts in almost every country.
The djembe drum is one such instrument.
If you’re a keen musician and are looking to get to grips with the djembe, you’re in luck. Here’s a beginners guide to playing the djembe. In this guide we show you step by step how to play the djembe drum. First though, let's look at what the Djembe Drums are made of.
Note: This guide was contributed by Clare Evans of djembedrumshop.com.
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What Are Djembe Drums, And What Are Djembe Drums Made Of?
So, what are djembe drums? Djembe drums are wooden drums, with a stunning carved body and a delicate goat skin head. The drum has a hole in the base, to allow the sound to escape. This instrument is played with your hands and can be enjoyed by both adults and kids.
They are a traditional West African percussion instrument, and perhaps the country’s biggest musical export.
How To Play Djembe Drums – Tips And Techniques
So, how do you go about playing these African instruments?
You can play this drum either seated or standing, but as a beginner seated is best. When comfortable, place the drum head between your knees. Angle the drum away from your body and make sure it is not flat on the floor. This will allow the sound to escape as it should.
Holding the drum at this angle will also help you play with more power. It is also angled with the same natural orientation of your arm, which makes it much easier to play. As a beginner especially, this is wise to remember as it will help you learn and practice with precision.
How To Hold Djembe Drums, The Correct Technique
Djembe drums are played with the hands, and the head is very delicate. Hitting the drum with sticks will cause irreparable damage to the instrument, so I don't suggest you do it. To get the correct hand positions, form a triangle shape with your hands. Then, place this triangle on the drum, with your thumbs on the rim. You can keep your hands together, or apart, but just keep the triangle shape.
This positioning will help you reach each note easily. There are five basic notes novice musicians need to know, but each is hugely simple and effective:
- Muffled Tone.
Here is each one in more detail, and how to play them.
Note 1: Getting A Bass With The Djembe Drums
The bass is perhaps the most basic, but fundamental djembe note. Holding your hand flat, this note is played by striking the center of the drum with the palm of your hand. Keep your fingers together and your hand straight to keep the tone authentic and reduce damage to the drum.
Once you strike the bass note, pull your hand away immediately. This allows the sound to escape, and the note to be played correctly. The bass is played in the center of the head, but can be played slightly off center if preferred.
Note 2: The Tone
The tone produces a higher pitched note than the bass, and is played with the fingers not the palm. Keeping your fingers together and slightly cupped, strike the rim of the drum and pull your hand away after hitting.
All your fingers should strike the drum at the same time. To play the tone correctly, make sure the center joint of your fingers is on the edge of the djembe. This is what gives the tone its depth and unique sound.
Note 3: The Ping Note
The ping is a slightly similar note to the tone, but is even higher in pitch. To play this note, hit the very edge of the drum with the first joint of your fingers on the rim. Depending on the size of your hands, only your second and middle finger may hit the djembe. As with the tone, all your fingers should hit the drum at the same time. You need to pull your hand away after playing the note to allow the sound to escape.
Note 4: The Djembe Drum Slap
Often considered the most difficult beginner note, the slap is what it says on the tin. Making sure all your fingers strike the head of the drum, ‘slap’ the djembe in between the center and the rim. Bring your hand down to the drum sideways, cupping your hand; almost like your catching a fly on the drum head.
Note 5: How To Play The Muffled Tone
The muffled tone is essentially the same note as the tone, and is played in the same way. The only difference is that instead of moving your hand away after striking, you keep it on the drum head. This muffles the sounds, and separates it from the other four tones.
The beauty of these notes, and playing the djembe, is that there are no hard and fast rules about what you play. African music is famed for its polyrhythms – multiple rhythms played at the same time – and this is easily achievable with a djembe.
How To Play Djembe Drum for Beginners Conclusion
Particularly in a drumming circle or live performance, the various rhythms add depth and dimensions to the instrument and the music. Playing independently, or in a performance, adding a djembe helps you bring a whole new sound to your repertoire.
If you've tried out the Djembe Drums before or want to share your experiences with them, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
This guest post was supplied by Clare Evans of djembedrumshop.com. If you’d like to purchase your very own djembe, get in touch today.