How To Play The Djembe
Typically, anybody can learn how to play the djembe. The djembe is a goblet drum from West Africa and is a member of the membranophone family.
This special drum called djembe is specially made from wood, rope, and goatskin.
The wood is used for the drum shell while goatskin takes care of the drumhead. The rope is used to tighten the drumhead on the drum shell.
They normally use the hardest wood like the African Mahogany trees, also called Lenke trees to make the djembe.
Also, the goatskin used for the drum making was of the finest quality. And the rope had to be the strongest, to pull the drum altogether.
We discussed the djembe more in the Things You Need to Know About the Djembe post. And in this post, we will focus more on how to play djembe.
The djembe drum is indeed a fun instrument to learn how to play and play as well.
Again, the djembe is not a hard drum to play as long as we know the basics of getting the different tones from the drum.
Anyone that learns how to play djembe will find it very interesting to play. And playing the djembe makes you “djembefola”, whether you are a skilled player or not.
Don’t be surprised, “djembefola” is someone who gives the djembe drum its voice. In a nutshell, djembefola is used for someone that plays the djembe drum, I mean the djembe player.
Note that there is no born djembefola, anybody can become one.
In this post, we will look into the fundamental skill set required to play the djembe. Also, we will learn what we need to do to get the drum sounding.
How To Play The Djembe
The djembe drum is played with bare hands and is not too difficult to play but requires dedicated practice to master.
Moreover, playing the drum requires two very important skill sets and. These skill sets are the beat stability and smooth flow of the rhythm.
To make a sound on the djembe you will hit or slap different areas of the animal skin used for the drum head. This action can be used to create a vast range of pitches with the drum.
The Djembe Sound
One of the key features of the djembe is the underneath hole on the drum shell. This underneath hole at the bottom of the drum shell is the major source of the sound from the djembe.
Also, the hole is very important to the quality of tone play on the djembe. Especially, when the tone is coming from the sound playing in the middle of the drum on the hands.
So when you are playing the drum with the underneath hole covered maybe by the floor, the sound from the drum will sound dead. This will happen because there is no resonance coming from the hole because it has been blocked.
However, when the drum is tilted and the underneath hole is open the sound can easily come out. At that point, the drum will sound nice because the sound in the air can easily come out from the hole underneath the drum.
This will lead us to the djembe playing position and we will discover a better position to play the drum.
The Djembe Drum Playing Position
Playing the djembe requires a posture that will make the playing smooth for the drummer. Also, the underneath hole on the drum needs to be exposed for a very clear sound as discussed earlier.
As a matter of fact, the two requirements can be achieved while standing up or sitting down. Definitely, we can play this versatile instrument while standing up and also while sitting down.
You may be wondering how to play the djembe while standing up or sitting down. In the following section, we will look into that.
How to Play Djembe In Standing Position?
Playing the djembe while standing is not an easy task because it requires stamina to carry the instrument.
Nevertheless, playing the djembe while standing comes with benefits in some aspects of playing the drum.
The standing position is commonly used to play the drum for dancers. Because it allows the drummer to move around with the drum while playing.
Also, it eases the synergy between the drummers and dancers and enhances harmonious dynamics in performance.
In addition, the standing position amplifies the drum’s volume and allows it to sound very well. This can be justified by the drums underneath the hole that is freely open to the air.
However, playing the djembe drum while standing requires a level of skill that also calls for time to master.
To effectively play the drum while standing, the djembe needs to be carried in a proper way. So that the drummer can pose very well and be able to use all necessary muscles to play the instrument easily.
The most common method used to carry the drum is strapping. For this purpose, we should use a very strong strap with reasonable width that can easily dig into the shoulder.
There are two ways to carry the djembe with straps and these are shoulder strapping and waist strapping.
For shoulder strapping, we will use a long strap around 4-meter-long to strap the drum around our shoulder. Also, the strap should be crossed in the back to keep the drum firm and avoid the drum sliding.
Moreover, the drum can rest between the drummer’s legs to support the body and functioning of the diaphragm.
The other way we can strap the drum is known as waist strapping. This is the act in which we strap the djembe around the waist. Actually, waist strapping is common in Mali but not that healthy for the drummer.
The waist strapping allows the drummer to move the upper body easily but puts more pressure on the lower back.
Playing the djembe in this way can later result in lower back problems because of the direct effect beating the drum has on the spine.
How to Play Djembe In Sitting Position?
Playing the djembe while sitting is cool and requires less stamina compared to the standing position. Because the instrument will rest on the ground which puts the weight of the instrument on the player’s body.
The sitting position is advisable for beginners. It will allow them to focus all their energy on mastering the basics of playing the drum.
However, there is an ideal position to place the drum for proper playing while sitting down. The first thing we need to understand is that the head of the drum should be held away from our bodies.
Leaning the drum toward ourselves is not an ideal way to play the djembe. The reason is that it will force us to turn our wrist up while playing which will eventually create a lot of tension.
Chair Choice For Sitting
Sitting down requires a chair. Therefore, we need to talk about the chair we can use to sit down and play the djembe.
There are different ways we can place our drum while sitting down to play. However, whatever way we want to adopt, there is a need for a good chair that can provide strong support for us and the drum.
A good chair for djembe playing should have the proper height that corresponds to our height.
So that when we sit with our feet flat on the floor, our thighs will be parallel to the ground.
Moreover, the chair should be opened in the front so that we can easily slide the drum under our feet. Also, we need a chair without arms to move our hands freely while playing the drum.
Placing The Drum While Sitting To Play
When the chair case is settled and we have sat to play the djembe, we need to position the drum well.
So to properly pose while sitting down to play the drum, place it vertically on the ground and between the legs. Also, ensure both knees and feet hold the drum upper sides and base firmly.
Moreover, lean the drum slightly forward and away from the body around 10 to 45 degrees in relation to the ground.
This drum position will allow easy movement of hands while playing or striking the drum. Because the hands will properly align with the drumhead.
In addition, leaning the drum forward will open the underneath hole for sound production to the air. This opening will result in a non-stifled sound while playing the drum.
The more we lean the drum forward, the more the underneath hole opens and the more the sound that we will get.
Another way to properly position the drum while sitting down to play the djembe is to place the drum between the lower legs. This is done by bending the drum diagonally under the body.
With this position, we will allow the body of the drum to somehow rest on the heels and calves.
Or we can wrap our legs around the drum by crossing the foot. This is okay for quick playing and not playing for a long time.
Check the posture
The good posture for the drum will allow you to maintain a good tempo. Also, it will wipe away any tension around the shoulder and neck.
Finally, check your posture. Your spine should be straight, you should be leaning slightly forward from the waist, and your elbows should be hanging loosely at your sides.
Furthermore, ensure the posture and drum position that allows a straight spine. Also, there should be freedom in leaning forward from the waist side.
The elbow should also be free to move around so do not press it against your torso. Let both elbows hang loosely at your sides for better freedom of movement.
And lastly, check your breathing system. You should be able to breathe properly because the drummer’s breathing dictates the flow of the drum rhythms.
Hitting/Striking the Drum
Once we can pose and position the drum very well, the next thing we need to learn is how to play the djembe.
Playing the drum requires us to strike it in the right way to produce the right tones.
A strike is just the way your hand touches the drumhead to make sounds from the drum.
Although, djembe can be played in any way we like. But striking the drum with our hands in the proper way will prevent us from hurting our hands.
To start learning how to play the djembe, you start with the correct striking.
When you know how to strike the drum properly to get the right tone, you can start learning how to play the rhythm with the drum.
To start with, position the drum very well and place the palm of your hands on the drumhead. Ensure both hands are in the position shown in the diagram above.
Then, you can try striking the drum by hitting the soft spot in the middle of the drumhead with your palm. Use the right palm first and then the left palm.
Thereafter, try different spots on the drumhead and get the feel of every spot you strike.
Without a doubt, the sound for each spot on the drumhead will vibrate differently in your ear.
However, you can basically produce three tones while striking the djembe. These tones are Bass, Tone, and Slap. We will discuss this further in the next session.
Tones on The Djembe
Specifically, three basic and distinctive sounds can be produced with different strokes on the djembe.
These three basic strokes generate a unique sound from the djembe.
The tones are the bass tone, the open tone, and the slap tone. The three tones correspond to low, medium, and high tones respectively.
The lower tone is called bass, the medium tone is open, and the higher tone is called slap.
The djembe players produced these different sounds by hitting different areas of the drum head with different parts of their hands.
The Bass Tone Stroke
The bass tone is the lowest tone you can get on the djembe. The bass stroke is a deep and wonderfully rich sound with a hollow tone like an amplified heartbeat.
The “du, gu” sound is normally used for the verbal representation of the bass sound.
To play a bass stroke, you hit the drum head toward the center with your palms. To achieve a better bass stroke, you need to hit the drum head with your whole palms.
The fingers and your thumb should be parallel and along with the inner part of your knuckles has to touch and hit the drum head properly.
The more you hit the drum head closer to the center, the more you set the skin into vibration and the better bass you will get.
Also, you need to allow the tone to resonate by vibrating the air around the drum head.
Therefore, you hit the drum and logically bounce your hand off its surface in the minimum time possible.
The Open Tone Stroke
The open tone is the middle tone you can get on the djembe. It lies between the bass and the slap.
The tone is also referred to as the natural tone of djembe. The tone stroke sound dries and sometimes round and bright.
The “do, go” is normally used for the verbal representation of the tone sound.
To play an open stroke, you hit the drum head closer to its edge majorly with the palms side of your fingers.
For correct playing of the open tone, ensure that only one side of your fingers is used to hit the drum head.
Also, hit the drumhead with all your fingers at the same time and make sure they are flat, even, and free from the thumb.
Try as much to keep all your fingers together but do not squeeze them.
The more you hit the drumhead closer to the edge at a place where the tension in the skin is higher than the middle, the better open tone you get.
However, you need to quickly bounce your hand off the drumhead and faster than when you strike for the bass tone.
This is necessary for the right tone and better rhythm.
The Slap Tone Stroke
The slap tone is the highest tone you can get on the djembe. The slap tone on the djembe is high, sharp, and sounds like the crack of a whip.
Actually, the slap tone is more difficult to play compared to both bass and open tone. However, with concentrated practice, you will get the sound right.
The “da, ga” is normally used for the verbal representation of the slap sound.
To play the slap stroke, you will also hit the drum head closer to the edge like you did for the open tone.
However, you need to relax your hand before it makes contact with the drumhead.
Also, ensure you slightly curve your fingers and not make them flat as you will do for an open tone.
And use the fleshy part of your palm, right below your knuckle and underneath the fingers to hit the edge of the drum.
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