Djembe Technique

The Three Sounds Of The Djembe
Djembe rhythms are a combination of the 3 basic sounds, the bass, tone and slap.

Bass
The way to produce the deep bass sound is to hit the middle of the skin with a flat hand. Fingers are together.

Tone
Moving out from the center of the drum, the tone is played using a flat hand, hitting the drum so that the outer rim of the drum is at the center of your palm. Fingers are closed, thumbs are extended away from the fingers. The tone sound is higher in pitch than the bass.

Slap
This is the highest of the djembe sounds. Maintain the same placement of your hand as with the tone. Now, slightly relax your hand. The sound comes from ‘whipping’ the skin with the pads of the fingers. The sharp sound of a good slap will come with a bit of patience and practice. Important! Don’t try to get the slap sound by playing the rim of the drum with your finger tips. You might get a high sound but this is incorrect technique and after a short time your fingers will hurt. Ouch.

The most common technical difficulty for beginner drummers is mastering the different sounds of the djembe. This crucial step is often mistakenly skipped in favor of learning as many rhythms as possible. This is a pity as it seriously limits the possibilities of expression. You want your sounds to be clear. If your sounds are clear, the music will be clear. And clear music is Good Music.

As with any musical instrument, technique follows practice.

Practice producing the 3 sounds with both hands.
Your writing hand will naturally be stronger at first, so it’s worth spending more time on your weaker hand.  It will soon catch up!

There’s no need to hit the drum with a lot of force. You may injure yourself doing this. Let gravity work for you. Allow you hand to fall rather than hitting with too much force. Don’t beat your drum. PLAY your drum.

The right touch is obtained by keeping a perfect balance between strength and flexibility.

Don’t leave your hand on the djembe. Your hand should bounce off the skin, not grab it. Make sure the hand that is not playing is not ‘resting’ on the edge of the drum. Keep it in a ready position.

Be patient and discover how subtle adjustments can improve the sound.

Allow the sound to flow from the drum.

Before you play…
Do some simple stretching exercises to loosen up your wrists, hands, arms and shoulders.
Be aware of your body. Sit with your back straight. Good posture is crucial. Shoulders should be high and the back straight but not stiff. Elbows should not be pressed against the torso, not should they be extended too far out. A relaxed, natural position is best.

Sing or count the rhythms…
The best way to learn rhythms is to sing or count them. If there’s a spoken phrase that has the same rhythmic pattern as your drumming phrase, experiment with saying it as you play. Practice your rhythms slowly until your hands are familiar with the patterns and you are producing the correct sounds on your drum.

Don’t speed too soon…
Now try the same rhythm a little faster. As you practice, keep your tempo constant until you are ready to move to the next level. Pause briefly, then begin again at the new tempo.
If you find yourself tripping up, or if your hands lose their programmed pattern, stop and start again at a slower tempo. Be patient with yourself.

Resist the temptation to accelerate out of control. If acceleration becomes a habit, it will make it more difficult when you play with others who will be relying on you to keep a steady tempo. Playing along to recorded music or using a metronome are 2 good ways to keep your speed in check and develop rhythmic consistency.

As you play…
Be aware of your breathing. Breathe through your nose.
Let your breathing become part of your playing.

Relax
Breathe
Sing or count the rhythms
Smile!

 

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