Most drummers learn to drum through countless hours of mimicry and imitation. Playing along on a Djembe to a favorite track can establish rhythm, style and tone and is a great way to learn the nuances of the hand drum. Like all other instruments, the Djembe and other hand percussion instruments have a specialized style of music notation that helps all levels of drummers learn and master new rhythms. Djembe rhythm notation takes the imitation out of learning how to drum and gives the drummer the ability to learn music, drums and unique rhythms while developing a personal style outside of the imitation of other Djembe players.
Djembe rhythm “Gun Dun” notation can vary somewhat, but it typically follows the same basic format, and closely resembles guitar tabs, but in a drumming form. Most Djembe rhythms are based on 4/4 time, so each drum hit or rest is considered one beat of the rhythm. Djembe tones are usually noted as the following:
D (Dun) – Left hand strikes the center of the Djembe; bass tone.
G (Gun) – Right hand strikes the center of the Djembe; bass tone.
d (do) – Left hand strikes the rim of the Djembe; open tone.
g (go) – Right hand strikes the rim of the Djembe; open tone.
T (Ta) – Left hand slap; sharp tone.
P (Pa) – Right hand slap; sharp tone.
A typical rhythm written in Gun Dun notation may look like this:
Gun do go do go Dun Pa Ta Pa Ta
More advanced notation may include horizontal and vertical lines to mark the beats above the tones, or a series of boxes that use Dun Gun notation with extra instructions for volume, rests or stretching out the rhythms beyond a 4-beat measure.
This type of notation may be easier for the beginner Djembe player to follow, allowing a simpler method for learning the hand techniques to produce the bass, open and slap tones as well as the different areas of the drum head played to produce those sounds to their best quality. “Dun Gun” notation establishes a basis for playing many Djembe rhythms in a way that enables the drummer with limited drumming or music experience to quickly learn to play the Djembe alone or within a drum circle or other group.