Djembe Hand Positions and Sounds

djembe

See also: Conga hand positions

Connect the Syllables to Drum Strokes
Practice each drum stroke separately and speak the syllable as you hit the drum. Use this chart for difference:

Drum Sounds
Vocal sounds
Other hand
Favored hand
bass
dmm
gnn
tone
doh
go
muff
tu
ku
touch
tea
key
slap
ta
pa
“finger tone”
doh
go
“finger slap”
ta
pa

To make the bass sound (dmm/gnng), drop the palm, with fingers up, near the center of the drum and bounce off, giving a deep resonant bass tone. Make sure the bottom of the drum is open to get a resonant bass tone. You can use a stand to lift the drum, or tilt it slightly away from you.
Cracks in the drum shell, no matter how small, may diminish the bass sound.

A helpful image is that the drum head is a trampoline pushing your hand up.

 

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
TONE
or ‘open’
DOH
GO

The tone (doh/go) is made with the full length of the fingers held together. Strike about one third of the way to the center and bounce off, giving a full, warm, medium-pitched sound. This is the most important sound of the drum!

It’s important to keep your fingers together so one finger doesn’t strike first. You are trying to create the effect of a padded mallet.

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
OPEN SLAP
TA
PA

The open slap (ta/pa) is one of the easiest sounds to get from your drum and is the dominant sound of the djembe. With your hand relaxed in its natural, slightly cupped shape, strike the drum skin, contacting the rim with the muscle between the base of your little finger and your palm, towards the outside edge of your hand. The finger tips snap over toward center and bounce off, giving a high-pitched ringing sound.

 

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
CLOSED SLAP
TA
PA

The closed slap (ta/pa) is rarely used in traditional Djembe drumming.
The stroke is made in a similar manner to the open slap (above) but the fingers remain on the drum.

 

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
MUTED SLAP
TA
PA

To make the muted slap (ta/pa), one hand lays flat on the skin and mutes the sound while the other hand strikes an open slap as described above. It is very important that the full palm of the resting hand be in contact with the skin to produce the correct tone. The sound is very short and high, similar to a wood block.

 

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
“FINGER TONE”
DOH
GO

The “finger tone” (doh/go) is made with the full length of the fore finger. Strike about one third of the way to the center and bounce off, giving a full, warm, medium-pitched sound. This is a soft version of the regular tone. This is useful for practicing quietly and playing bongos.

 

Drum Sound
Vocal sound
Other hand
Favored hand
“FINGER SLAP”
PA
TA

The “finger slap” (ta/pa) is a complimentary note to the “finger tone”. Strike the drum head with one finger with one knuckle over or just inside the rim giving a high-pitched ringing sound.