How to Play Djembes

Do you have a djembe, but don’t know how to play it? Check out our article to learn the basic of  How to Play Djembes

Resembling a drum, the djembe is more of a West African-themed instrument. One of the most vital percussion instruments on this planet, the djembe, is quite easy to play.

Its popularity is usually attributed to the vast range of pitches it produces – the low bass, the medium tone, and the high slap. All these sounds only by perfect striking! Yes, by striking the different regions of the djembe body with your hands, you can create such random drumming noises. If you are new to this field, we are there to have your back. This article provides you with a guide on How to Play Djembes . Stay tuned to learn more!

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What Actually is a Djembe?

A djembe (voiced as “Jem-bae”) is actually an African hand drum. With their goblet-shaped bodies held by rawhide drumheads, the djembe is considered to be a staple in the percussion world. Not to mention that the djembes are also rope-turned. 

This drum is said to have originated from the Mandinka tribe (presently known as Mali, residing in West Africa) in the 12th century. For generations after generations, the djembe was an integral part of the ritualistic life of people in Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and other neighboring West African countries. 

All the western and non-western countries introduced their own version of the djembe – some ranging in size, others in weight. It is deemed that an average djembe weight lies somewhat between 15 to 20 pounds. “Djembefola” is a term referred to the Djembe players.

Design of a Djembe- How to Play Djembes

With a stellar and distinctive design, the djembe gives off a versatile sound. As we mentioned before, the djembe has a goblet-shaped body composed of hardwood, carved out using hand tools. For its great spiritual values, Lenge wood was used to emit acoustic sound. 

Later, the exterior is polished well till it gets smooth leaving a rough-textured interior for enhanced sound quality. Made of goat-skin, the head is designed to provide high-pitched slap sounds and tone. Other materials like synthetics or rawhides also deliver the same quality. 

For the rope-tuned djembe, polyester or kernmantle ropes are used that serve to secure the drum head.

How to Tune Djembe?

To deliver efficient sound, any instrument needs to be tuned. The same goes for the djembe. If even one side of its skin is not properly tightened, the crispiness of the sound will be impaired.

By employing a double-hoop system, the djembe is tuned in a method that involves pulling the lower loop above the rim of the djembe using an upper hoop. After tightening the vertical rope, it can be further weaved in a horizontal direction to intensify the tension. 

Weaving the horizontal ropes in front of and behind the vertical ropes, you can twist them into a serpentine loop to reach the desired pitch by increasing the tension. 

For the best quality sound, the tuning around the skin must be moderately tight and even on each side of the drum.

3 Fundamental Ways of Playing Djembe

In this section, you will discover 3 ways to strike the djembe head: bass, tone, and slap. Before unravelling the ways of playing djembe, let us first discover how to hold the drum.

As most musicians do, do not hunch over the instrument. For healthy playing, it is best to keep your back straight while playing – be it sitting or standing. Allow your chest to be open and your shoulders to remain down and back. Adjust the height of the djembe so that both your hands can access it while sitting. 

If you are standing, it is easier to play djembe with shoulder straps on. Being aware of your proper body positions before playing is just invaluable. 

Moving on, the next step is to write the rhythms down on a page. Even though you can use video recording or sound to learn the music notation, it is better to note down the rhythms for a better understanding of the music and song itself. 

Most drum notations are just dots and dashes so it’s an absolute no-brainer for you. Once you get the grips, you are good to go!

Finally, let’s dive into the 3 ways of playing the djembe:

Bass- How to Play Djembes

Among all the notes, the bass is the easiest to play. If you are a beginner, you are highly recommended to begin your djembe journey through this note.

For bass notes, the hand position is quite simple and can be adopted quickly.  The low-pitched bass sound can be achieved by beating the drum in the center of the skin with your heavy hand. 

Your arm is a vital part, providing resonance and power to play the note – too tense arms will tire out rapidly, and too loose arms will give out weak notes.

Tone- How to Play Djembes

We know this method seems confusing. The tone note is the middle note. Using your wrist alongside your arm to drive the hand in the drum’s direction, the middle-pitched tone note is played on the drum’s edge with fingers only. 

You will see that this is the most common method to play the djembe. If you actually want to hone your djembe skills, it is mandatory to get this tone note right.

Slap

We are going to be honest with you here – this will hurt a lot! The hardest stroke to master, the high-pitched slap, has many types, each played around the edge.

A consistent and clear high-pitched note will require enough training and practice. Once you master the slap, you will open a door of possibilities for you. Let your solos reach the skies, rhythms stand out, and music reach another level!

Final Thoughts

So that’s a wrap for our guide to playing the djembe. Our task might have ended, but yours has just begun. Now that you have understood the basics, you can start grinding. 

Grab your djembe and start practicing – now!

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