As experts in all things hand drums, we have run across a lot of different views and questions from people who may not truly understand the beauty and tradition behind djembe drums, bongos or other hand percussion instruments. In order to facilitate a better understanding of why we are crazy for hand drums, here are the top hand drumming myths we have come across in our own discovery and exploration of these beautiful instruments.
Hand Drums are for Hippies?
Hand drums are for hippies, and for professional musicians. A hand drum is perfect for a senior citizen or a child. The djembe, and many other hand drums, were originally used in a community setting, which is reflected in today’s drum circles and drum jams, but, they are also powerful instruments with a lot to add to music today. Latin music would be nothing without bongos and conga drums, and the integration of these hand drums into other genres of music has created a cultural unity throughout music. If we really think about it, hand drums are for hippies, in that sense!
Hand Drumming is all Improv Drumming?
Well, in truth, hand drums are fabulous for improvisational drumming, just like they are fantastic in a group setting with traditional rhythms being played. It can be easier to pick up a djembe and start rocking out with a favorite song, adding a personal flair to the beat, but, hand drums are steeped in cultures that used specific rhythms within tribal societies for various purposes. These structured rhythms remain alive today, and are just as beautiful to play and experience as the freedom of an improvised hand drum solo.
All Hand Drums are the Same?
No, and, the litmus test for hand drum obsession is probably that cringed face you get when someone calls a conga drum a doumbek. Hand drums come from all over the world, each with its own unique style, different types of materials used in the drums, different methods to play the drums and so much more. In fact, finding two djembe drums constructed from the same (natural) materials and methods will still produce two different drums. The differences in hand drums can be nuances, or the obvious difference between a cajon drum and a set of bongos.
A Hand Drum is Only Good for One Type of Rhythm?
Technically, the rhythm played on a hand drum is only as complex as the drummer’s ability to play. Polyrhythms are possible on a hand drum in a few ways – they can be played by one drummer who can create two unique rhythms with his or her hands or within a group of drummers with multiple instruments. Hand drums lend themselves easily to complimenting the tone and timbre of each other drum, and each hand drum has several different tones possible, depending on the area struck and even the way the hand hits the surface of the drum.
Hand Drumming is Easy?
One could say that desk drumming is easy, or that plucking the strings of a guitar is easy. The basic motion of hand drumming is a natural movement, yes, but the ability to create rhythm on a hand drum takes effort, practice and dedication. Anyone can pick up a hand drum and play a simple four-count beat, but, being able to accurately play a traditional African rhythm on a djembe is another story. The easiest part of hand drumming may be succumbing to the desire to play the bongos or doumbek. The rest is a brilliant, and difficult, journey into a whole new groove.
We would love to hear any hand drumming myths you’ve debunked! Let us know in the comments the different attitudes, misconceptions and outrageous thoughts you’ve heard about djembes, doumbeks, cajon drums, bongos, congas, frame drums…. So many drums, so little time!