Learning to play a hand drum, like the djembe, bongos or congas, certainly takes a spirit of dedication and love of rhythm. These instruments are not only steeped in cultural celebrations, but, are a modern fixture in drum circles and music performances each day. While hand drums allow for a measure of individuality of expression and playing technique, there are some basics to playing these drums that will help even the most experienced drummer get the perfect sound from his or her drum.
When playing a djembe or other hand drum, it is the fingers that may have the most important role in the tone and timbre of the rhythm. There are five main finger techniques for the hand drum, each with a role to play in the overall sound of the beat and playing experience.
Bass Sound Finger Technique: Keep your hand relatively flat with the fingers together, thumb extended, while turning the wrist inward slightly. The bass tone is played with the fleshy part of the hand, under the thumb, just off the center of the drum, keeping the thumb off the surface so the sound resonates fully.
High Sound Finger Technique: The hand stays flat, as above, but with the wrist turned outward. This tone is created by hitting the edge of the drum with the ring finger, creating a higher, snappier sound.
Dead Sound Finger Technique: Lay the wrist and palm against the drum, muffling the resonance. The tone is played by “splitting” the fingers into two groups (thumb and index finger on one side, then the others form the second group) and rotating them as they strike the center of the drum.
Finger Flick Technique: Create a crackling sound on the hand drum by loosely curling your fingers into a fist. One by one, release your fingers quickly, striking the drum head with the natural “flicking” motion.
Scratching Finger Technique: For any of the above, rubbing the pads of the fingers or the fingernails (gently!) on the surface of the drum head will create a more grainy or rustic sound to the overall tone.
There are other hand drumming techniques that can also enhance the sound of your rhythm, depending on the instrument you are playing. Learning these finger techniques, however, will give you a good basis to not only master your drum of choice, but, also be ahead of the curve when you decide to add a new member to your own hand percussion family.