How to Play Conga Drums

Conga Drums are some very popular musical instruments, originated from Cuba. These have become very popular over the recent years. Conga Drums are very versatile in terms of their sound. This makes it easy to implement them into various types of music.

Salsa and Latin music makes it essential to know how to play the Congas if you want to be a drummer in this scene. So let us begin our tutorial today on how to play conga drums.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: How To Drum Faster 

The Absolute Basics

Let us learn about placement, posture and positioning of the congas before we dive any deeper. These are essential, as you will hamper your learning progress greatly if you follow a wrong method.

  • Placement of the Conga Drums

First thing is first. The drum is of a very tall stature and thus can be placed on a plain floor. You will be sitting on a chair, or just a stool for tradition. Try to get a stool or chair with the right height in this situation. The aim is to use one whose seat height matches the top surface of the conga drums.

  • Knee Placement for Support

When you have got the placement down, you can use your knees for support. This will ease the process for you to hit the drums. Having them at a fully flat angle is going to make it difficult when playing fast paced tunes.

Place the bigger conga drum at an angle away from you by placing it between your knees. The angle should be slight, so that the bottoms are just slightly above the ground. This is for a conga drum set with two drums. There may be a third one as well.

Playing the Conga Drums

Now to focus on the actual playing part. You will be focusing your hands on hitting the drums in some very specific ways. Do not be intimidated as your muscle memory will have your back after a few weeks of proper practice.

  • Closed Sounds (Center)

Use your palms to hit the center for some closed, mid-range sounds. These closed sounds will be soft and dull, and you have to master the force you put behind each hit. It is not advised to use too much force when hitting the center, in case damage may be seen.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that none of the techniques that we will go through are exclusive to any single drum. They are all unique, but the techniques we will be listing can be applies to all of them. 

  • Open Sounds (Rim)

For open sounds, you will need to use the middle of your hand on the edge of the drum. Open sounds will contain more treble, and have a metallic feel to them. This tone can be achieved properly by using the part right underneath your knuckles at the edge of the conga.

Pro Tip: Ensure that your thumbs do not hit the rim of the conga drum as this will ring a very unpleasant noise.

  • Bass Sounds (Center)

Hit the middle of the conga drum with the heel of your hand for a deep, bass sound. This low bass note will sound quite similar to the closed sound, but much deeper.

Pro Tip: You can improvise and experiment making the bass sounds. Try doing this by using the tip of your fingers right after striking with the heel for some different bass sounds. They will be less deep, but will give a more unique rhythm.

To Combine Your Playing

Now that you have the most basic beats down, it is time to put them together. Weird as it may seem at first; these are the three techniques you will need to master to learn just about any kind of song.


We will be covering some of the most basic patterns that are common amongst conga drum players. They are not very advanced, so there is nothing to worry about. Learn and practice these very regularly to learn the more professional ways to play. Let us begin with the first one.

  • Tumbao Pattern

The tumbao pattern is one of the most commonly played patterns. It is necessary to learn this to play some of the more common conga drum rhythms. The technique is actually fairly simple. 

To play it, start off hitting the Quinto drum with the heel, and then the fingertips of your left hand. Leave it to rest against the conga, and then slap the same drum with your right hand. Then you can hit the middle with the left hand’s fingertips. Follow along with the heel for an additional two notes for a very good finish

You can look up on YouTube here for some step by step guide on how to play the tumbao. It can be rather confusing to learn this from reading text alone. With the video, you can also know what kind of sound you should be producing.

  • Comparsa Pattern

The compasa pattern can be achieved by alteration between your left and right hands. Play the open note quadruple times in a go on the Quinto. Then play another open note on the tumba with your right hand, preferably after a short pause.

Repeat this technique and you will hear some very resonant rhythm being created. You can go here to YouTube for a more elaborate lesson. It will help you understand the sound and get it right properly.


We have covered the placement, positioning, hand posture and patterns of the conga. With that said, you should be able to now start off learning the conga drums. It can be somewhat confusing at first, but you will be able to tell wrong from right by simply hearing the sounds.

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