How To Play The Djembe Drum

There are 3 basic sounds made on the D’Jembe; bass, tone, and slap. These 3 sounds are made by hitting the D’Jembe different ways. Below are some pictures that might help you master the techniques.

When playing you can position the drum many ways but always make sure to have the bottom of the D’Jembe slightly tipped up so that sound can go through the bottom.

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Bass

Make sure your hand is almost flat with the palm slightly below the rest of the hand (as above). Hit the drum directly in the center of the drum, it should produce a hollow bass sound.

Then…

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Tone

This should produce a higher pitch, cup your hand slightly and hit the edge of the drum, the center joints of your fingers should be on the corner of the skin and the edge of the drum.

Then…

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Slap

This is the most challenging sound to produce. You want all your fingers from the edge of your middle finger to the pinky to hit the drum.  You want to hit in between the direct center and the edge.  You want to pull your hand back and just swipe this area of the drum with your hand, this should produce a slap sound.

After tones, it is good to take up drumming patterns which will give you a set of different sounds at different meters. After learning basic D’Jembe patterns, a little more time listening and experimenting will allow you to accompany music as well as compose and come up with your own. Make sure, especially when starting, to take a break every 10 minutes or so and shake out the tension in your hands, arms, and shoulders.

Most western D’Jembe patterns have a lettering system so that you know which hits you would perform in a phrase.

Capital letters stand for the right hand

Lower case letters stand for the left hand

B = bass

T = tone

S = slap

A period (‘.’) stand for rests

So a pattern like “T.s.B” would be translated into 1 right hand tone, rest, 1 left hand slap, rest, 1 right hand bass.

Remember to keep practicing and experimenting!

DJEMBE DRUM HISTORY

The African djembe (pronounced “ZHEM-bay”) is a goatskin covered drum shaped like a large goblet and meant to be played with bare hands. Traditionally crafted djembe drums are carved from one single piece of hollowed out hardwood trees. Specific types of wood depend upon the forests accessible to the drum makers. Some West African hardwoods used for musician quality instruments (carved in Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Ivory Coast) include dimba (bush mango), lenge, bois rouge, acajou, iroko, hare or khadi, and dugura.

As a result of the large goblet shape and the goatskin head, there is a significant difference in the tones produced. Striking the skin near the center produces a bass note; striking the skin near the rim can produce either a tone or slap note, depending on the technique used. The slap has a higher pitch than the tone. Some consider the djembe female and the Ashikos to be male. The djembe is said to contain 3 spirits. The spirit of the tree, the spirit of the animal of which the drumhead is made and the spirit of the instrument maker. The African djembe is also known as the magical drum.

The African djembe is used for ceremonial purposes such as a wedding, full moon or the start of a harvest season for farmers. There is general agreement that the origin of the African djembe is associated with a class of Mandinka/Susu blacksmiths known as Numu. The wide dispersion of the djembe drums throughout West Africa may be due to Numu migrations dating from the first millennium A.D.

The Malinke, an indigenous people who are spread throughout West Africa, use the djembe to help spread their message of peace. In the Malinke culture it’s an expression of joy, and is often used as a way for the African people to share their thoughts about the world. African drummer Mamady Keita, named best djembe drummer in Africa by the Pan-African Festival in Algers puts it best: “For us personally it’s a way for us to share our own thoughts about the world. It helps us show through music that all our problems are not needed, and that we can come together as people because we can come together to play music.”

To view a selection of authentic and affordable Djembe’s that we carry here at Acacia Wood Carvings, please visit our ‘Djembe drum’ category in the navigation menu to the left.

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