As a drummer or someone interested in drumming, some of the most versatile sounds and rhythms can be found in a set of bongo drums. These easily portable drums pack a wide range of tones and are perfect for an even wider range of drum and music styles. Whether a fan of a hot Latin beat, or to add some pop into rock or jazz music, the bongos can bring a certain flair to the entire experience of a song, jam session or drum circle. Learning these amazing drums is an experience in itself, translating into a fun and satisfying musical experience for all to behold.
There are four basic drum strokes for the bongos: slap, open tone, heel-tip and a muted tone. The different sounds produced depend mostly on the placement of the hands on the drums and the ability of the fingers to tap against the drum head.
A slap sound is produced by the fingertips striking the center of the drum while in a cupped position, and then quickly releasing. A “slap” sounds more like a “pop” sound, and the motion used should be crisp and direct.
Open tones are similar to slap sounds, except the fingers are not cupped and it is the upper palm that creates this crisp and clear sound. In a slightly more artistic motion, the “heel-tip” stroke can be produced by resting the hand on the head of the drum and rocking it from the heel to the finger tips. Building further upon this motion, a “muted” sound can be created without rocking the palm to focus on the tones produced by the fingertips only.
Other techniques for playing the bongos include wrist snapping and further muting the drum’s overtones by placing the hand on the drum while playing an open tone or a slap.
Depending on the style of the music or the taste of the bongoceros, the position used to play the bongos can have a slight effect on the sound of these drums. Many times, bongos are held between the thighs while sitting, slightly muffling the sound. Bongos that are attached to stands have a somewhat clearer resonance, and the ability to attach microphones to increase volume. Regardless of the position used to hold the bongos, however, the techniques for playing remain the same.
In addition to the sounds, tones and position of the bongos, basic rhythms can provide a foundation for ultimate bongo playing. The Martillo rhythm, or hammer, is considered the most common bongo rhythm and has been said to mimic the sound of a trotting horse. Other Latin rhythms are easily adapted to the bongos, as well as many other rhythmic genres, and, of course, improvisational rhythms.
The versatility of the bongos is not only found it the small size of these drums, but also in the ability of the bongos to bring a unique sound to all types of music. Whether a new drummer, or a drummer looking for new sounds, the bongos promise a world of fun and excitement for both drummer and audience.