Djembes come in all different sizes and styles, giving everyone the ability to pick and choose the best drum for their needs within a private setting, on stage or in a drum circle. Since djembes and many other hand percussion drums are tunable, it is always beneficial to understand the techniques needed to keep a drum sounding its best. While many new djembes may already be tuned, becoming familiar with the reasons to tune the drum and how to get the best sound through tuning a djembe is important for any drummer.
A djembe may be rope-tuned or key tuned, and each style has a place in a hand drummer’s arsenal or at a drum circle. Rope-tuned djembes are constructed with more authentic methods that relate back to the original djembe drums from West Africa. Keeping these in tune requires knowledge of the “Mali Weave” of the ropes, which helps keep the drum head tight across the top of the drum. As ropes can become slack over time, weaving and knotting new ropes into the drum will assure the sound remains true, no matter the rhythm that is played.
Key-tuned djembes may be more familiar for those who play drum sets, timbales or drums with metal shells. Since these djembes have a similar hardware setup to more modern drums, keeping them tuned is done in a similar fashion with the lugs or even a wrench. It is best to tighten each lug slightly, moving around the drum to each next lug in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion in order to assure a consistent sound.
When it comes to keeping a djembe’s sound as pure and crisp as possible, the method for tuning the drum relies in its construction. Learning and mastering the methods of tuning your new djembe will not only help keep the drum in top shape, but, will also give you personal insight into how your drum works, and the unique possibilities it holds when you start creating your own rhythms.