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Simple Instructions to Play the Djembe Drum Like an Expert

Instructions to Play the Djembe Drum
Pronounced as 'Jembe', the Djembe drum is one drum that is meant solely for all the good things in life. There is so much history, color, and use for the Djembe drum, no wonder so many people prefer to use it as a cool percussion for making music.
Arun Prabhu
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Traditional African Djembe
If there is one thing we should be thankful for, apart from the Numu in Africa creating the Djembe, is their migration over Africa, carrying the instrument with them. The Djembe was the most well-known percussion instruments in Africa, even if a handful were ever allowed to play it. It's size and shape governs the variety of sounds you can make out of it, from a deep bass to a clean sharp tap.
If you looked at the Djembe as one of the more popular percussion instruments that doesn't fall into a music genre, but rather creates its own, you saw it right.
Preparing to Play the Djembe
The Djembe is not like a bongo or any other simple percussion instrument. It requires a lot more discipline and practice. The fact that playing it is addictive actually helps you get better at it. People who have been playing for long enough will swear some common things, like how playing it requires them to take off their wedding ring, making people think that their marriage is on the rocks.
Or how their teeth can sometimes hurt if they've been chattering them, trying to come up with a new beat when they're not playing.
There are two very important things you need, to play properly - stability and rhythm. To become more centered and balanced, you need to calm yourself to become perfectly still. For that, the best in my opinion is to meditate. Watch your breathing it changes slowly from fast to regular to slow and deep. You can also do a little Tai Chi or yoga to stay physically centered.
Your own body's rhythm alone will decide the way you can play beats. You may learn the ways to hit the drum, but without letting go to inhibitions to obtain a free moving body, one with the beats, you will not be a good Djembe drummer. There are two things to do for you to maintain a good rhythm - develop a sense of timing for beats and a decent control over your breathing.
If you had little or no experience with percussion before this, use a metronome to generate a steady, uniform beat pattern. It will help in getting the right tempo and keeping it right. You also need to control your breathing. Always remember to breathe as you play and use your breath to guide your timing.

Apart from that, you will also need to be in a good shape if you intend to play the Djembe standing up. Start jogging in the morning and always get a good warm up routine going before you play.
The Three Beats of Djembe
You can get basically three type of beats - the bass, the tone and the slap.
The Bass
Bass Beat of Djembe
This is the lowest note you can get. It's sound should be deep and hollow. To play the bass note, you need to do the following.

◉ Hit the center of the drum. The closer you are to the center, the more will be the skin's amplitude of vibration and you will get the better bass.
◉ Open you hand to make it straight. You thumb should be parallel to your fingers. When you hit the drum, hit it with your entire hand - palms, fingers and the inside of the knuckles. Your whole hand has to land on the surface at the same time. The hit also needs to be very firm, hit lightly but with a firm hand. If you hit too hard you'll just get a low, damp thud, not a very nice sound. The beat has to resound through the air around the drum, for which you need minimum time of contact with the surface, maximum area of contact and the center of the surface.
◉ To do it right, you need to work your elbow. Keep your hand straight and move your elbow to land the hand on the surface. Also, do not keep your hand tense. If you stay loose, the hand should just bounce of the surface to moment you hit it. This gives the perfect bass sound from the Djembe.
The Tone
Tone Beat of Djembe
The note in the middle of the bass and the slap would be the tone. This is the one you generally start to practice when you pick up the Djembe. The tone is the 'natural' note of the drum.

◉ Form a paddle with your arm from your elbows to your fingertips. Keep your arm as straight as possible, with all your fingers locked together.
◉ The thumb stays away from the palm, almost perpendicular to the fingers.
◉ You are to hit the drum inside the edge and only with your fingers. When you hit the drum, your fingers are the only part of your hand that are linked to making the sound. The inside of your knuckles hit the rim and make no sound. The thumb stays away from any contact with the drum.
◉ Comparing with the bass, the tone has a much harder rebound. Your hand bounces back faster, which you can use to get the right thin tone and to get a good rhythm. You will be hitting the drum a bit faster than the bass note.
The Slap
Slap beat of Djembe
The highest pitch of the three sounds is the slap. It is sharp, crisp and high. It is the harder of the three sounds of the Djembe, and needs a little bit of practice to even get a sound off the drum, then some more to get the sound right.
◉ Position you arm just like you did for the tone. Now drop your palm from the wrist by a slight angle. It should be just enough for the fingers go decisively lower than the palm.
◉ You are to hit the inside of the rim, just like in the tone. The trick to the slap is, you have to relax your hand just before you hit the drum. When you relax your hand, maintain the level of the palm to the fingers, which should curl inwards so your hand form a 'C'.
◉ When you hit your fingers on the surface, they should hit like a whip uncoiling, with your pinkie finger hitting first and the index finger falling last. The entire action need to happen fast to get the cracking sound just right.
◉ The rebound of the slap is the highest of the three. If you find the slap too sharp or want to intentionally muffle the sound, you can hold the other hand just above the drum surface, close enough to eat up any extra vibrations on the drum.
When you play the Djembe drum, always think about what it was used for - for celebrations, as the beats to peace, as the roll that guides the rite of passage of a human being. What comes out of the drum is the sound of your own soul, not just the timed beats of a percussion instrument.