Congas for Beginners
Shopping for conga drums can seem a bit overwhelming especially if you're new to the market or not sure what questions to ask. As a hand drum store owner and percussion enthusiast I'm frequently asked questions from customers regarding the best set of conga drums to purchase for beginner players. Let's face it; there are many congas in the marketplace all vying for your attention and all pretty much look the same. However, the unique differences in each conga can make a big difference in playability, sound, and overall enjoyment.
After reading the information below, you'll be able to make a clear and confident decision in selecting the best conga drums for beginner players.
Conga Drum Sizes
A conga drum is tall and narrow, played with the fingers and palms, often in pairs, but sometimes in other combinations, or just singly. They are available in a range of sizes; the smallest can be just 9 inches across and are worn from a shoulder strap, while the largest "supertumbas" are up to 14 inches across. Heights typically range from 28" to 32" inches. The size of drum obviously affects the sound and pitch of the instrument, with the largest drums being used to play the lower rhythms, and the smaller Quinto conga drums acting as the "singer" of the band, playing the melody.
Most beginner players should start out on just a couple of drums. It's important to first learn proper technique before deciding to add another drum to the set-up. A good starting point would be a combination of (10" & 11") or (11" & 12") head sizes.Conga Drum Materials
Most conga drums are made in the same part of the world - Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok's close proximity to the raw materials and skilled labor necessary to manufacture percussion instruments make it an ideal location. Although most conga drums are made in the same location there are unique differences that separate them.
One of the big differences between congas is the type of material used. Conga drum shells are typically made of wood or fiberglass. Fiberglass drum shells are extremely durable and tend to more easily produce drum tones when played. This can make them ideal for beginner players whose playing technique is not quite developed. The fiberglass shell tends to resonate louder and crisper compared to wood shell congas which, although more traditional, will not resonate as easily. On the flip side, wood congas will have a warmer and typically fuller tone than fiberglass shell congas. Most professional players will prefer the warmth and fuller sound of wood congas.
Another difference you need to understand is the type of drumhead used. There are essentially two types of conga drumheads. The first type is the more traditionally based animal skinhead. Typical animal skins include rawhide on less expensive congas and buffalo skins on pricier congas. The second type of drumhead is a synthetic head that was created to produce the tones of skin based heads, however are more durable and tend to last longer. In addition, synthetic heads are typically easier to play because they 'crack' a little louder and have a brighter tone when struck. Again, this could be beneficial for a beginner player who is still learning how to play.
How Much Should I Spend?
If the congas are for a beginner player you don't have to buy the best. There are plenty of very good congas available that sound great and won't break the bank. However, the biggest mistake one could make when purchasing a set of conga drums is buying the most inexpensive set. Conga drums are musical instruments and like all musical instruments are detailed pieces of art. They cost money to make. Better materials mean higher costs. And better materials and construction generally lead to instruments that not only sound better but also are easier to play. Also, you want purchase congas that the player can grow into as their skills increase. The beginning conga player will have an easier time learning when playing a good set of congas. The drums will sound better and make for a more enjoyable time during the learning process.Top Manufacturers
There are many congas available in the marketplace, however four main manufacturers really stand out as the cream of the crop.
Latin Percussion: Check out the 'LP Aspire' series of conga drums. This line of conga drums is geared towards the beginning to intermediate player.
Tycoon Percussion: Check out the 'Artist/90' series and 'Supremo' series of conga drums. This line of conga drums is geared towards the beginning to intermediate player.
Toca Percussion: Check out the 'Player's' series of conga drums. This line of conga drums is geared towards the beginning to intermediate player.
Remo: Check out the Remo 'Crown Percussion' line of conga drums.
If possible, the beginning conga player should seek out some one-on-one training with an instructor. There's no substitute for having someone, in person, teach the new player the foundation of proper technique. Beginning conga players just starting out need that extra reinforcement of when they are and aren't doing something properly. It helps to solidify the right way to play.
However, if there isn't a conga instructor available locally to get that one-on-one training, check out the following instructional material to begin. Even if the conga player has an instructor, the following instructional resources would be beneficial.
Conga Drumming: A Beginners Guide to Playing With Time (by:Alan Dworsky) – This 160 page playing guide comes with a CD.
Conga Drumming A Beginner's Video Guide (starring Jorge Bermudez) – This is an instructional DVD that covers all conga basics.
Mel Bay The Tomas Cruz Conga Method, Vol. I: Conga Technique As Taught In Cuba – (by: Tomas Cruz) –The Tomas Cruz Conga Method is designed to quickly and comprehensively teach anyone, from a rank beginner to a professional conguero, to play congas. This 72-page paperback comes with an instructional DVD as well.