How to play hand drums for beginners

Hand drumming is considered one of the most ancient forms of percussion. While they look simple, hand drums require so much practice to master. Learn how to play hand drums for beginners with this article.

Sound produced by hand drums has a certain glair, depth and excitement that is hard to come by on other drums. If you have played basic drum kits before, you will find that there is a huge difference when compared to playing hand drums. You just don’t hit the drum any other way but you have to work fast and professionally to hit those drum notes effortlessly.

In my opinion, playing hand drums is necessary for professional drummers to be able to contribute adequately in their music fields. While hand drums do have similar techniques, each instrument has its own origin; story and language that make it work.

How to play hand drums for beginners

Here are some general techniques that will help you learn how to play hand drums as a beginner

Drum position

Hand drums have different positions depending on their sizes.

One of the best instruments for beginners is the Djembe. It has long, terrific history and will include real tone and depth in your music. You will e ale to use this drum for recreational purpose as well as in a professional setting.

Place the drum between your legs and angle its head slightly away from your body. Tilt the drum off the ground so the bottom hole is a little bit exposed. The position allows for perfect hand placement. It also allows the noise to escape from the bottom to give off a clear, crisp sound.

As for shorter drums, you will need to find short seats, with a height parallel to that of the drum so you can sit in a relaxed manner and access the head of the drum.

The Tones

Bass tone – you can hit a couple of different tones on a hand drum. The bass tone is among the easiest to play on such drums. For this tone, strike the centre of the drum with your whole hand.

Ensure you hand is straight, with your fingers slightly arched upwards and closed tightly together. Using the centre of your hand will give you a deep bass tone. Use this technique to practice making tones at various volumes.

Make sure your hand is relaxed as tension can impede the timing, accuracy and reduce your speed and overall stamina. If the drum produces low volume it means your hand is not making enough contact.

Open tone – for this tone, you need your hand to be strong and relaxed at the same time. Strike the edge of the drum with your fingers. Ensure your fingers are closed together. The action is quick, so you have to pull away as fast as you hit the drum head.

A close tone – this the third common tone produced by hand drums. The action is similar with that of an open tone. The only difference is that the hand is left on the drum for a few more seconds to produce a muffled tone.

Types of hand drums

Hand drums come from different parts of the world, each type with a distinctive playing technique and pattern. Here are some popular hand drums


The congas are tall, Cuban drums that come in groups of three or two. They also come in three different sizes; the tumba (large), the quito (small), and the conga tres (medium sized). These bulky drums are not very portable. The larger congas are used for lower rhythms while the smaller ones produce the melody.

The tabla

They are popular Indian drums. Yu can play them with your fingertips as well as the heels of your hands. They also come in two sizes. One is large and made of metal, known and the dagga. And the small wooden one is known as the tabla.

The Djembe

Djembe is a popular West African drum. Traditionally, the Djembe was rope tuned but some modern (westernised) versions are mechanically tuned. The original Djembes are made with goatskin heads while modern versions have synthetic heads.

This goblet shaped drum is one considered one of the most diverse and flexible hand drums around the world. It has multiple sounds ranging from high slaps, sharp slaps to a deep bass.

If you are a beginner, opt for the westernised Djembe version. Fibreglass shells are known to produce sounds way easier than wooden sounds and are more durable.

As an adult, you will require a 12 inch head Djembe that is 24 inch long. When playing, rest the drum between your legs, leaving its head readily accessible.

The Bongos

This is an Afro Cuban hand drum. They are small and played in conjunction with the conga. The bongos come in two sizes, the small one (macho) and the larger drum called the hembra.

The Bongos is less bulky than the Djembe. The pair creates good quality high itched tones that are easily recognisable. The tones can be tailored for a wide range of genres.

To find the perfect set of Bongos, focus on the sound productions. While there are cheaper versions in the market, the sound they produce is not as high quality as you would get from an original version. Oak wood Bongos are affordable and they produce considerably good music which is good enough for beginners.

Tips to help you teach yourself how to play hand drums

Drumming school is not cheap which is why many drummers are self taught. With enough dedication, will and discipline, you can teach yourself how to play hand drums. Here are a few tips to get you started

Create a practice routine

Learning any type of instrument requires loads of practice. First, you need to establish where, how and when you will practice playing the hand drums. Once you decided on the kind of hand drum you want to play, and with constant place to practice, you will be able to keep a routine and keep yourself disciplined.

Final word

If you are interested in learning how to play hand drums, there is a lot that you need to do. First, study about the instruments, pick one that you are interested in, learn the strokes and practice. Hand drums are intriguing instrument and will boost your resume as a musician.


Can hand drums be used in a professional setting?

Absolutely! Hand drums have a unique sound that cannot be produced by regular drums.

Can you use drum sticks on hand drums?

Hand drums sound best when played by hand but some of them can produce varying sounds with a drumming stick.

Leave a Comment