Conga Hand Positions & Sounds

See also: Djembe hand positions

Connect the Syllables to Drum Strokes
Practice each drum stroke separately and speak the syllable as you hit the drum.

Drum Sounds
Vocal sounds
Favored hand
Other hand
open slap
closed slap
muted slap
glissando or cie

“gnn” “dmm”

To make the bass sound 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.

“go” “doh”

The tone (doh/goh) 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.

“ku” “tu”

The muff sound (tu/ku) is also made with the full length of the fingers held together. Strike in the same area as the tone, but press into the skin. This produces a shorter and slightly higher-pitched sound than the tone. The muff is a variation sound.

“key” “tea”

The tip stroke (tea/kea) is made with the wrist above the drum. The finger pads strike and press in, producing a muted sound. This stroke will make a high sound if played near the rim of the drum and a low sound if played near the center, as long as the bottom of the drum is open. The tip storoke is often used as time keeper between other more dominant sounds.

Open Slap
“pah” “tah”

The open slap (ta/pa) is one of the easiest sounds to get from your drum. 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.

Closed Slap
“pah” “tah”

The closed slap (ta/pa) is made in a similar manner. The outside edge of a relaxed and slightly cupped hand strikes near the rim. The finger tips and side of the hand snap over toward the center and stay, giving a short, sharp, high-pitched sound.

Muted Slap
“pah” “tah”

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 or closed 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.


The palm-tip stroke (waka – same for both hands) is a two-part motion and sound. The hand rests on the drum and rocks back and forth between the palm and finger pads, with emphasis on wrist movement. The first part is a soft bass note produced by the palm, and the second part is a tip stroke from the finger pads. Both parts of the movement are press or closed strokes. The tip stroke here is basically the same stroke mentioned above.

“glissando” or “cie”

The Gliss sound (oooh – same for both hands) is made by sliding one finger over the drum with slight presure on the tip of the finger. Striking the drum at the beginning of the slide will help activate the sound. A bit of moisture on the tip of your finger will help. It is easier on some drums than others. In general it’s easier on a low pitched drum and harder on a smooth skin. Your finger is skidding accross the surface, bouncing very quickly and vibrating the head.

Putting It All Together

Now that you know how to make the sounds, check out these traditional rhythms that use combinations of these sounds.

Below is my Speaking of Rhythm learning series which talks you through learning 6 African Diaspora rhythms using these sounds and hand positions.