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Nerd Out: What to Do When They Call Your Djembe the Wrong Drum

Published by Kristin Stancato on 10th Oct 2014

If you have been playing hand drums for a while, you know there are plenty of differences between a djembe and the bongos. Really, if you’ve been playing for a while, you know there are differences between a rope-tuned djembe and a key-tuned djembe, not to mention the thousands of other nuances that those drums offer. Loving your djembe (or any hand drum) will inevitably lead you down a path of expertise about your drum, as well as drums that sit alongside it at the local music store or in an online search. From step one of that journey, you’re going to have to be prepared for the rest of the world to test your patience, understanding and devotion to your djembe, especially when they say, “hey, can I play your conga?”

Oh no he didn’t!

Of course, we understand the reflex action in this situation is to glare at the person and adamantly demand he (or she) leaves your presence immediately. But, as in all lessons in life, this is a teaching moment for you and the other person and a great example of how drums can (hopefully) bring us all together… one beat (of the drum) at a time.

If and when you run into this dilemma, the most important thing you can do is remember to breathe. Understand that not only are people without drums inherently naïve, but, they are curious enough to want to play your drum. This is the perfect time to regale your new nemesis with the countless lessons in history, culture and geography that your djembe (or other drum) provides, as well as your own personal story about how you started playing drums. Since we all have very short attention spans, unless we’re drumming, the odds are that the person will just give up and walk away. On the other hand, if he or she is still listening and patiently waiting for you to stop speaking, you may have just made a new friend and invited a new person into the circle of hand drumming greatness.

If the other person has remained and you are allowing your drum to be played, you can take the opportunity to further educate him or her about the other types of hand drums. Considering the list of drums to discuss could potentially keep you in that very spot for the next few weeks, you’re going to expect the other person to eventually get up and leave so that his or her arms don’t fall off from playing while you continue the educational process.

Other ideas to help you educate people on the differences in hand drums and why your djembe isn’t a doumbek/conga/snare drum include:

  • Visual aids: flash cards, posters, interpretive dance.
  • Media enhancement: video or audio clips, your improvised vocalization of the different sounds of each drum.
  • A wagon of drums: just be prepared to point to the conga and say, “no that is a conga drum.” Bonus points for taking your drums and walking away in a huff.
  • Drum circles: This takes practice and timing, but, if at the moment a person mistakes your drum for another, you can have 20 of your closest friends emerge from the shadows, each with a different drum. Then, the real fun and education begins… and, it’s a drum circle. WIN!

When the day comes that you are confronted with the “mistaken hand drum” scenario, be prepared for a flood of emotions. We take our hand drums seriously, but, remember that you may have once made the same mistake. Plus, there are always new drums (cajon bongos, anyone?) to make things just a little more complicated (and fun!) In the spirit of community that drumming provides, you could just say, it’s a djembe, and leave it at that. Allowing that person to then play your djembe is optional; after all, they might learn a thing or two, get their own drum, and be your new best drumming friend. We really wouldn’t want that, now would we?