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Jason Mraz Djembe Player, Toca Rivera

Posted by X8 DRUMS Friday, July 31, 2009 0 Comments
Jason Mraz is one of the hottest names in music. The singer songwriter, who grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, took his musical cues as a teenager from Dave Matthews Band, the Agents of Good Roots and musical theater. He moved to New York after high school graduation to matriculate at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, but left after a year.

Mraz began playing the guitar, but the quality of his voice bears testament to his training as a vocalist; he is known for his broad and unmistakable tenor. Mraz began busking in New York, but later moved home to Virginia, before setting out for the opposite coast.

After settling in San Diego in 1999, drawn to the singer-songwriter scene, Mraz began playing at local coffee houses, like Java Joe's. He signed on for a weekly residency at the hot spot, notorious for launching huge stars, like Jewel, to fame. At Java Joe's, Mraz met his future percussionist, Noel "Toca" Rivera. Mraz calls Toca Rivera a "vocutionist," or a percussionist who also sings.

Toca Rivera, his brother, and Mraz originally formed a band with two guitars and Rivera on the djembe drum, but over time, Rivera's brother left the band. They then created a duet, with Mraz on guitar and Rivera on djembe.

Within a few years, Mraz and Rivera were signed to Elektra and released Mraz's first album, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, which featured their first top twenty single, "The Remedy (I Don’t Worry)." Three years later, after signing with Atlantic Records, they released Mr. A-Z, which debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 album chart.

The most popular album by far has been Mraz's most recent studio album, entitled We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Thanks in large part to "I'm Yours," the album's lead single, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. debuted at number three on the Billboard Hot 200. Mraz and Rivera have now been playing together for seven years.

"I'm Yours" has been one of the most popular songs on the charts in the last year, and helped to make Jason Mraz a household name. Topping the charts in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, "I'm Yours" was certified gold in 2008 by the RIAA.

Toca Rivera swears by Meinl instruments. In the video to the right, of the duo playing their hit single, "I'm Yours," Toca plays a Meinl Floatune Series Wood Djembe. The Meinl Floatune Series Wood Djembe is a high quality djembe, made of top notch components. Based on traditional West African djembes, this hand drum creates sharp sounds, with crisp tones produced by slapping the center of the drum head. Based on the size of the drum, the pitch can vary, but all Meinl Floatune Series Wood Djembes are made with a rubber wood body and goat skin drum heads. The drum can be tuned easily, and Meinl includes tune up oil and an L-shaped tuning key with the purchase. The drum is available in three colors: African Brown, Gold Amber Sunburst, and Natural.

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Flamenco Music

Posted by X8 DRUMS Thursday, July 30, 2009 1 Comments
The flamenco is a time honored musical and dance genre that originated in Spain. Flamenco developed in Andalusia due to the interaction between Arabic, Andalusian, Sephardic and Gypsy cultures in the area in the 19th century, although forms of the music and dance were noted earlier. Flamenco music is characterized by intricate guitar playing and flamenco dancing refers to the corresponding dance, performed with easy to hear footwork.

Flamenco Music
The cajon drum used for Rumba, a modern form of Flamenco.
Flamenco emerged from a complicated cross section of musical and cultural norms in the area. The dance was originally performed only by the gypsies in their communities, but musical members of the surrounding areas eventually joined in, adding their own flavor.

Flamenco music changed greatly in the late eighteenth century, when musicians changed instruments. Though flamenco was originally played on a classical five string guitar, flamenco enthusiasts adopted the six string guitar, which is now one of the most characteristic aspects of the genre. The added string allowed further diversification among players and styles. Most traditional flamenco guitars are made of Spanish spruce or cypress, and are smaller than normal guitars. This provides for a sharper sound while playing.

About a century after the addition of the sixth string to the guitar, flamenco music reached what is known as "the golden age." Cafes cantantes became popular between 1870 and 1910, allowing flamenco artists to hold ticketed concerts. This also paved the way for the popularization of flamenco dancing who performed at these concerts.

Professional singers and dancers, like Silverio Franconetti, Enrique el Mellizo and El Loco Mateo, began to build their reputations during this era, and their music is still often played in modern music.

The years after the Golden Age of flamenco are often known as the Etapa Teatreal, or the theatrical period. Flamenco music become commercial and was considered decadent. Flamenco music was played in larger arenas, which caused incredible popularity, but decreased the artistic integrity of the musicians.

The flamenco is an incredibly emotional dance. There are few choreographed dances, as the performers are meant to feel the rhythm, in a manner similar to jazz. Dancers also use their feet as percussive instruments, creating the rhythm. Flamenco musicians also improvise while playing, rather than pay attention to the beat of the rhythm.

In today’s version of the flamenco, artists are heavily influenced by other cultures. Many flamenco songs are derived from Arabic music from Yemen. Modern forms of the flamenco borrow greatly from Latin American and Cuban musical forms. This is called the rumba, and cajons are often played during performances of the genre. A cajon is a percussive instrument used to mark the beat. This hand drum acts as a stool for the player, who sits on top while slapping the frontplate of the cajon. The drum is equipped with guitar strings or snare strings that rest against the frontplate, giving the acoustic drum a range of sounds. The cajon is often used to define the compas, or the rhythm of the music and the division of the musical accentuations.

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Djembe, Kpanlogo and Sabar, Rich History in Rhythm

Posted by X8 DRUMS Wednesday, July 29, 2009 0 Comments
The heart and tradition of African music is the drum. The original purpose of the drum for the people of Africa for communication between tribes. The type of drum used and rhythm played sent specific messages between neighbors.

Idris Hester on Djembe
Three African drums with beautifully rich history are the sabar, kpanlogo and the most widely used today -- the djembe. Each one of these drums has its own song and story in African history.

The most popular of the African rhythms are played upon the djembe, a hand drum that was created by the Numu peoples of West Africa, has become relatively popular in Western music. Such notable musicians as Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and Ben Harper have all used the djembe's unique sound in their body of work, and it is featured in the unique performances of Cirque du Soleil. The djembe is a communicative drum, used to bring people together. This drum creates music from the bass notes created from hitting the center of the drum head, and tone notes from hitting the edges of the drumhead. The drum is thought to contain three - these are the spirits of the drum's creation. Spiritually, it was believed that the drum had one from the wood or the tree, one from the hide of the animal, and one from the man who created the drum.

Many other popular types originate from the kpanlogo drum, created in the Greater Accra Region in Ghana, Africa. This drum brought forth kpanlogo music, and is used often for dances. When the kpanlogo is played, it is usually a time for celebration. Because of this use it quickly became known as a ceremonial drum. Dancers are led by the kpanlogo lead drummer's beat. kpanlogos are usually played in groups, with rhythms created by more than one player. However, it is usually accompanied by a djembe or some other drum to produce the core beat.

Sabar - credit Flickr, Sabar-Elina
The sabar is one other type of drum, this one originating in the West African nation of Senegal. However, this drum is played in a contrasting manner to the others, as it requires the use of a hand and a stick. The sabar was used for communication between tribes, as the sound could travel great distances. The meanings of the rhythms included cries for help or warnings. The kpanlogo has much the same function. The sabar is used for such occasions as births, weddings, and various holidays. Sabar drum beats today are kept alive through the work of the Senegalese musician Doudou N'Diaye Rose, a man born in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Doudou N'Diaye Rose alone has created over 500 drum beats on the sabar, his instrument of choice.

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Downbeat Magazine Toca Freestyle Djembe Review

Posted by X8 DRUMS Tuesday, July 28, 2009 0 Comments
In the August issue of Downbeat magazine you'll find a great review of the new Toca Freestyle Djembes in Antique Gold and Silver. Below, we have included a copy of the piece as well as a transcription.

Toca Freestyle Djembe Article from Drumbeat Magazine
Toca Freestyle Djembe: Full-Bodied Satisfaction

Toca Percussion has retooled its award-winning Freestyle djembe - a chaliced-shaped, single-headed hand drum with roots in the West African countries of Guinea and Mali.

Instead of employing the traditional method of carving the instrument from the trunk of a tree, Toca uses a patented shell made from synthetic PVC material for these djembes. This makes the Freestyle djembe amongst the lightest and the most durable models on the market. The PVC shell produces a bright resonance that allows for easy tone production and makes the drum an excellent choice for school programs and drum circles.

Toca puts hand-selected goat skin heads on the Freestyle djembes, providing an important organic element often lacking in all-synthetic models. The skins on the four djembes I played all had excellent quality heads with even thickness and no blemishes.

The new Freestyle djembes feature a low mass bold tuning system, unlike traditional djembes that use a somewhat complex rope tuning system. The Freestyle djembes are easily tuned with a small wrench that comes with the drums. The tuning mechanism provides for quick, practically effortless tuning of a wide range of tensions. The bolts on the Freestyle djembes have protective rubber sleeves on them, which protect the player's legs and enhance the look of the drum. A non-slip protective rubber collar is located on the bottom of the instruments.

The new Freestyle djembes are available in two new hand-painted finishes - antique gold and antique silver - to give them a distinctive, North African look. They come with a choice of four different head sizes: 9-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch and 14-inch. The heights of the drums are relative to the head sizes, making the 12-inch and 14-inch more of a traditional djembe size and the smaller drums are musch like a North African dumbek. All sizes produce full-bodied sounds with sharp high-end slaps and satisfying bass tones. - Doug Brush


In addition to the Freestyle Djembes, Toca also offers a line of Freestyle Didgeridoo instruments.

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Djembe and African Dance

Posted by X8 DRUMS Monday, July 27, 2009 0 Comments
African dance's popularity is due in large part to the involvement of djembe players.

African dance is a means of creating community and of celebration. African dances teach people about their society and morals, while urging them to work and entertaining them. It is an important aspect of communication, as dance can be used to chastise or praise individuals. Dance is also used for religious festivals and prayers.

Traditional dance emphasizes the collective, with groups of people performing at once. Though the dancers may be separated into age or gender groups, dances articulates the togetherness of the community.

African American Academy African Dance Troupe, 2003
African dance can be difficult to learn, as it utilizes polyrhythm, in which limbs, pelvis and chest move separately, to different rhythms.
Dancers use their entire bodies to express themselves.

The most recognizable aspects of African dance involve the body of the dancer. Knees are bent, feet are stretched, no line remains stationery, always moving. There are many centers of motions, due to polyrhythm. In traditional African dance, there was a great emphasis on the earth bond.

African dance classes are becoming popular as a result of their association with Modern dance. Modern dance borrows heavily from more primal forms of movement, like the dance of the Masaii where performers jump up and down repetitively. The dance has found a huge market for people interested in stress relief, as well as those interested in the aerobic benefits.

Enrolling in African dance classes is a simple way to gain exposure to another culture. Beyond exercise and learning a new skill, African dance classes provide opportunities to join a community. What better way to build a village than to do so by swinging hips, stomping feet and swaying arms?

Djembe drummers lead African dance classes. A djembe drum is a West African hand drum with a body that is hand-carved from a single piece of wood, with a goatskin drumhead. Serious drummers usually buy African djembes, because they are made with higher quality materials than American drumheads. African goats have tougher skins, which makes for a better drumhead, and American drums are frequently made of plastic, fiberglass, or any number of manmade materials, which changes the sound created.

The drumbeat is the heart of many African communities. Drums are used as a call for meeting, and playing the drums in concert with a group of people creates a sense of solidarity and togetherness. The drum allows connection.

The drum also allows for polyrhythm, one of the central parts of African dance. The djembe player can vary the sound of the instrument, changing the mood or meaning of the song, as well as the course of the dance. The djembe player controls the dance, creating the rhythm and feeling of the music.

The beauty of the music of the African dance is that the djembe is portable, so the music is mobile. Dance doesn’t occur simply in studios, it follows the djembe player like children following the Pied Piper. Even better, members of the dancing troupe can take over for the djembe player, due to the ease of performance and learning. / CC BY 2.0

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Music therapy is used widely for rehabilitation of patients that have had a severe stroke. A study out of Finland reported that incorporating music into standard stroke rehabilitation treatments helps improve recovery of speech and memory. The music had a more significant impact on recovery than the use of audio books or no additional stimuli at all. The study also showed that the music lightened the spirits of patients as well.

Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers tunes produce positive response from stroke patients.
After six months of therapy, the music listeners' verbal memory improved by 60% and focused attention improved by 17%, much higher than the results noted in audio book listeners or patients with nothing. Furthermore, the music listeners were happier and less confused than members of the other groups. The research was carried out on adults who had suffered an ischaemic middle cerebral artery stroke with no prior history of neurological disorder.

Strokes occur when blood is unable to reach the brain, killing brain tissues.

This can cause disability in movement and cognition, as well as death.

Medical treatment includes medication to thin the blood that will prevent further clotting, and restrictions on the patient's diet will help to improve cholesterol levels. The stroke even causes weakness, loss of coordination, and pain. The aftermath of the event includes memory loss, confusion, depression, difficulty speaking, paralysis, and sensory loss.

While listening to music, the brain boosts alertness, mood and attention due to stimulation of the dopaminergic mesocorticolimbic system, which moderates feelings of pleasure and memory, among other emotions.

By stimulating this system, you trigger the wires for other parts of the brain through a neurological crossing effect. Doctors believe that the combination of music and lyrics leads to this cross over effect, which helps to recover losses in other parts of the brain.

Many therapists already use music as a tool. Singing songs can boost speech recovery in stroke patients. By putting words to a familiar song melody, the patient has an easier time of forming words and phrases. Rhythm and clapping, also used by therapists, aid in the recovery of movement and muscle control.

After a stroke, it's important to begin music therapy early, during the acute post-stroke stage. During this period, the brain undergoes many changes that relate to movement, memory and speech that can be augmented by stimulation. The largest benefit of musical therapy is that it fits in well with every day life. Music is everywhere, so with proper guidance you can treat yourself or your loved ones outside of the hospital, maintaining ongoing recovery and a routine of incorporating healthy brain stimulation.

Music can be a worthwhile therapeutic addition to a stroke patient's care, and is cheap and easy to provide. Patients may also respond to live performance music or by playing on simple instruments themselves. Experiment with recorded music, live music and present the patient with an instrument like a small djembe or shaker.

When selecting the type of music, choose something that is familiar to the patient. Playing something that they recognize will improve results of the therapy and improve memory development. Interesting enough, this study of music therapy on stroke patients showed that songs by Kenny Rogers delivered the most significant response from the patients. However, you should allow the patient to choose the music him or herself, or use music that you know the patient likes, as the familiarity of the music is frequently the key to memory retention. Selecting the type of music that stimulates the brain to craft thoughts is the technique used in music therapy to recover speech and recollection. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Didgeridoo Playing Instructions

Posted by X8 DRUMS Tuesday, July 21, 2009 0 Comments
Of the woodwind family of instruments, the Didgeridoo no doubt is the most fascinating and exotic in its class. The native Aboriginals of Australia crafted the horn, however there is no clear indication of how old it is. The Aborigines has a religious connection with the didgeridoo and believed that is was an integral part of the creation of our world.

Traditionally, the Aboriginals made didgeridoos from hollowed out eucalyptus or bamboo stalks. You can find didgeridoos in a number of materials in today's market, from Agave cactus stalks and any number of woods, as well as from plastic, fiberglass and other man-made materials.

The initial step to play the didgeridoo is to open your mouth wide and move your jaw. Place your lips around the mouthpiece, creating an airlock. The didgeridoo resembles the tuba in this aspect.

Blow smoothly and evenly. Your diaphragm controls the effort to manage enough steady air supply to vibrate your lips. Using a soft breath will let you maintain the noise for as long as possible on a single breath. Change the pressure of your lips until you create the proper noise. The sound you produce is referred to as the drone. Maintaining the drone effect is key to master before attempting more advanced and variations of didgeridoo tones. With enough practice, you will be able to create a nice, full tone.

Circular breathing is one of the most difficult parts of playing the didgeridoo, because it is so different than natural breathing patterns. By learning to circular breathe, you make sure there is air in your lungs at all times. Blow out air through your mouth by squeezing your cheeks, and breathe in short breaths through your nose. By contracting the muscles in your cheeks you breathe out the stored air supply, which inhaling the natural, unconscious way.

After mastering the drone, you can move on to sound effects, like bird calls, grunts, shouts and animal noises. However, this is a complicated process, because most beginners will be tempted to use their lips. It's important to never move your lips while playing the didgeridoo, because the lips need to vibrate around the mouthpiece at all times.

As a result, tones and vibrations are produced without your lips assisting.

These intonations are made by shaping the sounds without actually speaking them. Using the shape of your mouth and the location of your tongue will allow you to imitate the kookaburra and the dingo, as well as many other sounds.

To create the most well known sound on the didgeridoo, which sounds like "Ooo, eee," you'll need to focus on your tongue. Place the tip of the tongue at the top of your front teeth, and slide tip backwards over your palette. This alters the shape of your mouth, which will impact the tone and sound produced by your didgeridoo. Sliding your tongue forward will again change the tonal quality. These sounds will make the sound of your didgeridoo complex and interesting.

Try not to get discouraged if you are unable to create the sound effects as fast as you expected. It takes practice, like any other instrument. As you gain experience playing your didge, you'll get more comfortable with shaping your mouth to improve your sound.


Studies continue to show great benefits for senior citizens that take on a hobby of playing music. Performing in relaxed musical groups results in overall physical and emotional well-being in the elderly.

The Music Making and Wellness Project was a study on the affects of musical participation on healthy American seniors. The project's findings were positive, proving that stress, depression and loneliness diminished greatly for those taking music lessons, while the life outlook of the control group didn't change. Interestingly, the participants of the music group has a 90% increase in the production of human growth hormone, which is known to decline as seniors age.

91 years old. Plays several different instruments very well. Photo credit: adwriter
As Ted Turner stated, "Music has a great power for bringing people together. While it may seem that our days are filled with challenges that create more distance between people in our lives, it is important to take time out to participate and enjoy those activities that create bonds and community connection.Music groups seeing the best health results are those with members who encourage one another and practice social skills just as much as musical skills.

You could join a drum circle or a class, as long as there is a focus on involvement and a musical environment. As beginners enter a healthy and positive senior musical group for the first time, the welcome is typically a wonderfully surprising experience as their reason for being there is in line with the rest of the group; to feel better and make friends. Finding a group led by a mentor rather than an instructor will reduce the stress a novice may feel.

Senior music groups aren't about top class performance, they're about creating a sense of community. In the movie The Visitor, a 60-odd year-old widower discovers the djembe, as a result of his friendship with two illegal immigrants who have taken up residence in his abandoned apartment.

The bonds of age or skill don't matter; Walter (Richard Jenkins, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the movie) finds passion and joy in playing his djembe, both in group circles and by himself. Walter discovered a new culture and a new skill, connecting him to his old life with his classical piano-playing late wife, while at the same time gaining new interests and becoming a more diversified person.

The djembe drum is just one of many instruments that seniors typically experiment with. While some individuals will pick up a familiar instrument that they learned at an earlier point in their lives, many others venture into new areas of music and end up connecting with an instrument they may have never heard of - like a banjo, clarinet or even the didgeridoo. As long as you join a group that is positive, encouraging and sonically matches your instrument, you should be set.

The biggest factor of a healthy music group for seniors is creating an enjoyable environment, playing simple arrangements with a variety of instruments. Whether joining a huge drum circle or a small brass band, the same ideas apply. The melody has a therapeutic way of connecting a group in a community effort to carry the sound which insists stimulation and intellectual challenge without causing stress.

Seniors will be reminded of the importance of working in a group, and will be involved in musical events in the future, making sure that they feel like a part of something. The skills one gains in a band are the skills needed to create any thriving community. At the same time, studies show that musicians, no matter what age, suffer less from depression and have increased strength in the immune system.

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Drum Set Alternatives for Acoustic Gigs

Posted by X8 DRUMS Monday, July 20, 2009 0 Comments
Working drummers know well that performing light acoustic shows are part of the job and they need to be trained and prepared to drive the backline using an alternative drum when a standard drum set is not an option. A traditional hand drum is the standard alternative for these situations and drummers typically choose to use a djembe or cajon drum when the kit is too much for the room.

A djembe is a West African hand drum designed for usage in a drum circle. This hand drum is all about connecting with people and involvement by the entire community, and its easy for anyone to participate. Ben Harper, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel are known for including the djembe in their typical percussive line-up.

Pictured above is a djembe played by the drummer for an acoustic set

Traditional African drums are favored by professional djembe players, due to the superior materials. African female goats lend tougher skins than American goats, to the drumheads, as a result of the rough life of the African goat. African djembes also use hardwood instead of plastic or softwood, which makes for better sound. Many mass market djembes you see at department stores and big chain music stores are made of synthetic materials such as PVC or fiberglass which offer more durability but also offer less warmth when it comes to tone.

Djembes produce a range of sounds, called the bass, tone and slap. The bass is the lowest sound, and is produced by holding the fingers together while playing, like the tone. The tone produces a round and full sound. Finally, the slap creates a high, sharp noise, produced by relaxing the fingers while playing.

A djembe is much smaller than the typical drum set, with size averaging out at twelve inches in diameter, twenty-four inches in height. You can find smaller djembes, down to 8 inches in diameter and eighteen inches in height.

The djembe was prominently featured in Thomas McCarthy's 2008 film, The Visitor. The film focused on the cathartic experience of playing the djembe, and how the musical expression can become part of overcoming grief, as a result of the emotion. Djembe playing is about expression more than skill; it is about community and passion.

Unlike the West African djembe, the cajon is an Afro-Peruvian hand drum that is played by slapping the sides. The box drum has an interesting and broad history where in one case the drum was used as a way to continue to play despite the Spanish boycott on African music. The shape of the box masked itself and was seen as a stool or a shelf rather than a musical instrument.

Throughout history the cajon drum has been used to play the rumba and flamenco music and has recently become a major player in contemporary music. Most recording engineers are starting to experiment with cajon drum tones in the studio for rock, reggae and hip hop recordings.

Famous performers like Jennifer Lopez and the Dixie Chicks have used the drum, as well as Alejandro Sanz, Fleetwood Mac, Norah Jones and Ben Harper.

To play the cajon drum, the player sits on top of the instrument and plays various rhythms on the frontplate, which is typically made of fine hardwoods. The other parts of the box are made of thicker wood, which creates stability for the musician, with rubber feet for the protection of floor surfaces and the bottom of the cajon.

Cajons today have a variety of sounds as a result of bass pedals, snare wires and nylon strings in the production of the drum. Musicians use their hands, as well as plastic and metal brushes to vary the sound for the music.

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Idris Hester leads a drum circle with verbal instructions and energized body language.
Drum circles are becoming increasingly popular. They offer social outlets, while at the same time, supporting a worthwhile hobby. The emphasis on individual drum circles can vary, from ethnic events, like those that focus on samba music, to therapeutic groups for stress relief, to community drum circles, the main function of which is to create a sense of community.

One of the most popular forms of drum circle is the neo-pagan group. At spiritual festivals, the drum circle is used as a part of several ceremonies. The drummers play in order to create a magical experience, particularly at night, while singers and dancers perform around a bonfire. Summer and winter solstice celebrations are some of the biggest opportunities for drum circles, as the pagans believe that they are "drumming up the sun."

The community circle is a favorite for the drummer looking for a non-religious drumming opportunity. It is a casual experience, usually with a group of friends that can be used for celebration or recreation. They typically take place in parks or conference rooms. These events are also used as team building activities for corporations.

Major Drum Circle Events Across America

The Central Florida Drum Circle is a social drum circle that focuses on the connections between people regardless of age or race. It is one of the biggest drum circles, with 537 members who meet up to play and build relationships with each other through the magic of music. All types of instruments are welcome from djembe to conga and cowbell to cajon drum.

The Atlanta Drum Circle Meet-Up Group is home to almost 450 drummers and is one of the biggest drum circles in the South. The group emphasizes the therapeutic aspects of drumming, by reducing stress and encouraging mediation while playing. This group is great for those interested in gaining culture while indulging in a fun hobby.

Austin, Texas is home to another of the largest drum circles in the world. The Active Fun/Peace Loving Hippies is built to provide community and a place to speak the group member's beliefs. Furthermore, the Active Fun/Peace Loving Hippies have more than 400 hundred members dedicated to hand drumming.

Arizona's largest monthly circle, the Burning Bush Drum Circle has more than 375 hand drummers involved. Local business sponsor the event, where drummers, tambourine players, belly dancers and bagpipers get together to play music and dance, while fire eaters perform. The two year old group is hosted in Phoenix, Arizona every month.

New York
The New York City Meet-Up Group is comprised of 375 hand drummers. The group uses percussive techniques and ethnic rhythms from the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the East. Additionally, the group does innovative synthesis with poetry reading and story telling, accompanied by the hand drums.

The Knoxville Area Pagans' Meet-Up is a Tennessee-based group known for spiritual drum circle. Though they practice pagan religion, the group practices and performances are open to anyone in the area with an open mind. The Knoxville Area Pagans' Meet Up has over three hundred members, who are encouraged to share their religion while making new friends, as well as music.

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Oscar nominated film, The Visitor, shared with viewers a turning point in life of an older economics professor working at a university in Connecticut. After traveling to his residence in New York City for a conference, he was shocked to find that a young couple, both illegal immigrants, were living in his condo under a fraudulent lease.

He had been trying to learn the piano in order to reconcile his grief with the passing of his wife, a concert pianist, but due to age and lack of skill, he had gotten nowhere. As occurs often in life, the stars aligned and Walter (played by Richard Jenkins who was nominated for an Oscar in this role) experienced a short, yet life-changing friendship with Tarek. Although they clashed in both age and culture, the djembe and the drum rhythms they played together awakened the passion in Walter and the human trust in Tarek.

Walter is a grieving man, reserved and ordinary. Tarek is alive, in the strongest sense of the world. By letting the couple stay in his apartment, Walter makes friends with impassioned, lively people, rather than staying in the shadow of his long-past wife. Through his new friendships and the drumming, Walter is born-again. The soundtrack was inspired by Fela Kuti, a Nigerian artist, and incorporates an African beat into jazz and funk.

The juxtaposition of instruments between the piano and the djembe demonstrates the biggest draw of the drum. Walter fails time and time again at learning the piano, in an attempt to bring his wife's memory closer to him. However, he easily picks up the djembe, and in no time, is joining drum circles in Central Park with men dressed in traditional African clothing, loosening his tie, and getting involved.

The unstructured and positive approach to teaching is the complete opposite of the style Walter's piano teachers used. Rather than discourage him with words, Tarek teaches Walter to relax, feel emotion and let it out because "thinking just screws it up." All of Walter's stress and frustration associated with making music vanishes and he discovers that at last he can play. This reeducation makes Walter free.

This is the most valuable message of The Visitor. The Visitor teaches us that djembe music is therapeutic, emotional, and without an accepted style. Djembe drumming is about expression, not about restraint. For older people trying to become more musical, the djembe is the perfect instrument, because it engages your emotions, not your skill.

The movie, in a unique way, shows how important it is to accept and encourage cultural expression.

Walter's willingness to learn about and engage in West African culture shows viewers that the djembe is a vehicle of globalization. The same effect could be carried by a cajon or a bongo, instruments that take little skill but lots of emotion to play. Drumming takes you into another time and another culture, where expression supersedes technical ability when it comes to playing.

The Visitor is now playing On Demand through Comcast. Watch the trailer:

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How Hand Drumming Reduces Stress and Connects People

Posted by X8 DRUMS Tuesday, July 14, 2009 0 Comments
It has been proven that hand drumming can alter a person's response to stress at a genomic level.

Based on a study by the Medical Science Monitor, it was proven that people who play music in their free time have genetic reversals to stress.

Many health organizations have followed this logic by integrating drumming into their curriculum and have reported that it is a healthy way to relax in multiple ways. The more intense a person is while playing, the more aerobic the activity becomes whereby the player reduces stress and burns calories at the same time.

Playing a drumbeat engages the right side of your brain, shifting the pressure from the critical thinking left-brain. So, after an intense day at the office, the drum can physiologically relax your mind and refuel for the next day.

Beginners having a great, stress-free time playing djembe at community drum circle. Photo courtesy of theothermattm on Flickr under the Creative Commons License.
What makes hand drumming so inviting is that it is quite easy for inexperienced players to pick up without the frustration of learning technical skills. When you join a large drum circle group, your only task is to contribute what you feel comfortable doing and the circle finds a way to embrace it in the melody. This in itself provides stress relief and positive energy for your psyche. A drum circle creates a sense of acceptance and community.

Drum circles are recognized as effective team building exercises for companies in the corporate sector. They are also used in health care facilities for rehabilitation, senior care and family therapy as well as recreational and school programs for children.

These days, companies and corporate executives are looking into professionally facilitated drum circles for stress relief and team building. In fact, Toyota has added a drum room to their building fully equipped with all types of hand drums and percussion instruments.

Drum circles are also used in therapeutic sessions. The music produces a sense of synergy and focus, quieting the noise of chaos that can be troubling for people. For family therapy, making music together has had great results in getting teens to open up and discuss difficult issues.

Many college campuses are hosting drum circles in their public areas. Faculty encourage the activity as a healthy way to reduce stress from demanding schedules, tight finances and testing anxiety. The drumbeat also brings all types of people together opening doors for new friendship and a support group.

No matter what your age, gender or background, drumming is an open door for all to try. When you plan your next family gathering or retreat, consider planning a drum circle as part of the event to bring the group together and open up a new form of communication.

by Caitlin McGuire

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Cajon Rhythm Tracks

Posted by X8 DRUMS Saturday, July 11, 2009 0 Comments

Enjoy the diversity of cajon drumming with the tracks below provided by New York percussionist Jimmy Lopez.

Jimmy is an accomplished performing artist who is gifted in the exploration of music and experimentation of crossing modern melody with traditional ethnic instruments. Try some of these cajon rhythms yourself and see where the journey takes you!

Track Listing
1.Reggae One Drop Rhythm on Cajon
2.Reggae Steppers Rhythm on Cajon
3.Playing Cajon with Jazz Brushes
4.Jazz with Brushes and Heel Hits for Bass Drum
5.Brazilian Batucada Feel
6.Dancehall / Ragga Rhythm
7.Morocco, Northern African Belly Dance African Feel
8.Variation of Northern African or Arabic Belly Dance Feel
9.Moroccan Folkloric Gnawa Bass Drum Feel
10.West African 6/8 Rhythm on Cajon
11.Djembe Rhythm Adapting to Cajon
12.Rock Beat on Cajon
13.Rock 2
14.Rock 3, More progressive

Jimmy Lopez is a member of the Jessi Colasante band, Boom Box Repair Kit and the leader of his own musical group World Sound Traveler. He has also appeared on recordings for artists such as Marc Rizzo (Soulfly); Cruzando Banderas (Latin Rock), opera composer, Rubyana and many others.

Find out more about Jimmy and his incredible passion for life and artistic creation at


How A Gourd Shekere Is Made

Posted by X8 DRUMS Friday, July 10, 2009 0 Comments
The Gourd shekere is a simple percussion instrument that originated in Nigeria. It is used in traditional functions and ceremonies in the West African region.

The gourd shekere generates sounds when you shake, pull, twist, or tap its net. Once you master this organic instrument, you can make a wide variety of beats and sounds. Although the shekere has its roots in Africa, it is also very popular in Brazil and Cuba.

The gourd shekere is made of wooden beads and dried gourd. The beads are woven into the net that covers the gourd shell. The sound of the shekere can be described as a loud sand clock. African slaves brought their musical tradition to the Americas.

Making a gourd shekere is very easy. All you need to do is find the right kind of gourd and buy some tools. The shape of the gourd determines the kind of sound it makes. The gourd is dried for several months before its pulp and seeds are removed. Once they are clean and dry, they are scrubbed to make them smooth. You can also design and decorate your own gourd shekere with simple art materials.

You can find a wide variety of gourds grown in the United States. They are usually picked during the fall. Larger gourds are ideal for rich and deep tones, while smaller gourds have lighter and softer sound. Smoother and cleaner gourds resonate the sound better, so make sure that you clean and scrub the gourds before you place them on the net.

Holding the shekere upright will produce a soft bass tone, while light slaps on the bottom of the gourd produces tap sounds. The shekere can also create different sounds depending on what motion you apply. You can twist, turn, and shake the shekere to produce different sounds.

Like many African instruments, the gourd shekere represents joy and dancing. The instrument is widely used in traditional events with other African drums, especially when dancing rituals are involved.

African related music and instruments such as the shekere, bongo, and djembe have been growing in popularity in the American contemporary music scene. The mix of pop and indigenous African music has shaped the American music culture today.


Become part of the Magic

Posted by X8 DRUMS Thursday, July 9, 2009 2 Comments

Many seeking their own hand drum or djembe have experienced the magic of drumming and drum circles. While the djembe has been used for thousands of years in celebrations, rituals and ceremonies, the modern day healing powers of this drum are touching and connecting new people around the world every single day.

Studies now show that hand drumming helps to relax the tense, energize the tired and heal the emotionally wounded.

In working with holistic practitioners, certified drum circle facilitators and yoga instructors over the years, we know that the magic of drumming is real and it is powerful.

Many of our clients are people that work hard at their jobs, typically in an office envirnment.

Imagine hard days at the office... 9 to 5 day in and day out. You feel stress, frustration and need for a healthy outlet outside of a happy hour or a spin class at the gym. You want something more, a way to express yourself and connect with others in a positive environment. You walk by a drum circle and see the relaxed faces of the participants and someone offers you a drum. You look to the leader of the circle, he nods to invite you in and you begin to drum. You drum, slow at first, and then you feel it. Your mind relaxes and you roll with the beat. Thirty minutes later, the beat slows and comes to an end. You look up feeling that only five minutes have passed, ignited with a new and light energy. The release of stress carries over to the next day and your work week passes with ease having a new outlet for the stress. You continue your participation in the circle, improving your skills, meeting new people and practicing new life habits that lead to happier and healthier days.

We invite you to share your stories where you have experienced the magic in the comments area below.

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Back to School Deals from LP

Posted by X8 DRUMS Wednesday, July 8, 2009 0 Comments

Check out great deals on musical gear from LP. All sale prices are good until 9/30/09 or while supplies last.

CP Wood Conga Set, Natural Wood Finish CP Wood Conga Set, Natural Wood Finish
Sale Price: $249.00
CP Wood Bongos, Natural or Dark FinishCP Wood Bongos, Natural or Dark Finish
Sale Price: $42.99
LP Mini Afuche CabasaLP Mini Afuche Cabasa, Black
Sale Price: $19.99
LP Afuche CabasaLP Afuche Cabasa Standard, Wood
Sale Price: $29.99
LP Cajon by Mario Cortes - Genuine "Maid in Spain" Cajon featured on American Idol!
Sale Price: Save $20!
LP Cajon
Sale Price: Save $40!
LP Angled Cajon
Sale Price: Save $26!
LP Aspire Cajon
Sale Price: $105.00
LP Deluxe Cajon Bag
Sale Price: $54.99


We Love Egg Shakers!

Posted by X8 DRUMS Tuesday, July 7, 2009 0 Comments
Egg shakers are a versatile percussion instrument that can be used at all ages and skill levels to create a wonderfully rich musical rhythm with little to no experience. There are several types of egg shakers made from a variety of materials from natural gourds to plastic eggs filled with steel ball bearings.

The best part of egg shakers, aside from the sound, is that they are easy to hold and use. Typically, you can hold anywhere from one to three egg shakers in your dominant hand depending on how big they are. Most egg shakers come in a two to two and a half inch size, but some are as small as a one-inch diameter, and others as large as a four-inch diameter. Most percussionists prefer the midsize range because several can be held in one hand to rotate and shake at the same time for a richer sound with many layers.

The egg shape is easy to cup in a player's hand, and with just a simple repetitive flick of the wrist, you will have an instant, distinctive sound and rhythm that provides an excellent percussive accompaniment to many other instruments, including the djembe. By holding more than one egg shaker in your dominant hand, you can roll them together for a softer swishing sound created by the beads, or simply hold them together for a stronger distinct shaker sound.

Egg shakers are often used with children when first teaching them about rhythm. Egg shakers come in a wide variety of colors, and instantly appeal to kids. They are wonderful because they are a welcoming instrument, and just about anyone can play them without any trouble, creating sounds that gives them confidence in their ability to play a rhythm.

Egg shakers tend to give a softer, although very distinct, sound than metal shakers. The combination of a molded plastic exterior with either plastic or steel beads provides options for sounds that are softer and quieter than metal shakers, which always have more ping sound to them. By adjusting how fast or slow you play the egg shaker, you can create different musical moods from the sound of a softly rushing brook over rocks, to a sharp, continuous throbbing that really adds to musical interest.

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The Elegant Eucalyptus Didgeridoo

Posted by X8 DRUMS Sunday, July 5, 2009 0 Comments
The eucalyptus didgeridoo is thought to be one of the oldest instruments found throughout history. Experts think that is has been played for over 40,000 years. In drawings found in many caves, the didgeridoo is shown being played by the cavemen. A lot of Aborigines around Australia used the eucalyptus didgeridoo in ceremonies for many years, in times of trouble and happiness. They believe that by playing this instrument, they can more easily induce a calm and relaxed state. This state would then help them get in touch with their shamanistic beliefs.

The original didgeridoo was made out of eucalyptus branches, and the ones that were used were already hollowed out by termites. Since this could take a year or more, the process of making a didgeridoo was long and drawn out. Anyone skilled in the making of this instrument would be able to tell if the log was thick enough just by tapping on it. There is a reason why the instrument was required to be a certain thickness. The walls have to be just right in order to get the right sounds. The length of the eucalyptus didgeridoo helps determine the specific key that the instrument will be in. Shorter lengths make the pitches higher when played, and longer lengths made the pitches lower.

The legend behind the instrument is interesting. The story goes that three men were at a campfire on a cold night, and they needed to put more wood on the dwindling fire. One man picked up a eucalyptus log to throw into the fire, which he realized was quite light, but stopped when he saw that it had termites all through it. He did not want to hurt the bugs, but the others complained of being cold. To solve the problem, the man scooped out the termites and put them into the hollow log. He then blew all the termites out with his mouth, and legend has it that they became the stars, and the very first eucalyptus didgeridoo was born.

Since termites are not necessary to create a didgeridoo today, many other materials have been used to make this instrument. Very mature bamboo is one of the most popular choices for the making of the didgeridoo. Teak and PVC didgeridoos also work very well, and can give the instrument an excellent sound. With the many varieties of eucalyptus didgeridoos available, many people are learning to play them.


How to Adjust Cajon Snare Effect

Posted by X8 DRUMS Friday, July 3, 2009 0 Comments
The Meinl Snare Cajon and Toca Snare Cajon come with a fully adjustable snare on the inside that is in contact with the faceplate.

To control the cajon snare effect, tighten or loosen the knob and adjust the snare levels or turn it all the way off.

When the snare is in light contact, the snare effect is the strongest.

And if you want the snare off, back the knob off and retighten it in position and the snare effect will be gone.

If you take the faceplate off of the cajon, you can see exactly how the snare effect works.

Look closely at how the knob on the outside connects to the snare wires on the inside.

As you roll the knob forward, the snares come in contact with the inside of the faceplate.

As you roll it back, the contact is reduced.

So, with close precision, you can carefully set how much snare effect you want on your cajon.

Related Reading: How to Adjust the Top Corners of a Cajon for Slap / Crackle Effect


Tycoon Percussion Jampack Summer Sales Event

Posted by X8 DRUMS Thursday, July 2, 2009 0 Comments
Great deal from Tycoon this summer: Purchase a Tycoon Djembe or Cajon and get a free Jam Pack that includes Maracas, Tambourine, Claves and Cowbell! Retail value is $112.00!

Tycoon Percussion Jampack Summer Sale

Qualifying purchase must include a Tycoon Percussion Djembe or Cajon with a minimum list price of $289. Shown in flyer: Tycoon Traditional Series African and Dancing Drum Signature Series Djembes, E-Cajons and Roundback Series Cajons.

Offer valid at participating dealers from June 1 to August 31, 2009 or while supplies last.

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The sound of your cajon is very adjustable. There's a bass tone in the middle area, and on the edge there's a slap or a crack. With this guide, you will learn how to adjust the corner crack tone.

Start with a far corner of the faceplate - furthest from the body of the cajon. When the plate is less taught, the drum gives a slow dynamic and a rather pronounced crack. That sound might be too much for some people.

To adjust the response, take a Phillips Head screwdriver and very gently start to close that gap by tightening the screw. As the gap tightens, the response time quickens and the crackle effect is reduced.

If you want it to go away altogether, make the plate good and snug. Do not over-tighten. With the constant contact there will be no crackle effect.

Now, work the opposite corner to create a satisfying dynamic when you play your cajon drum with both hands.

If the opposite corner is tight already, put the screwdriver in and give it about a half of a turn counterclockwise. That's should be all it takes to create a variance in tone.

Related Reading: How to Adjust your Cajon Snare Effect


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