28th Oct 2014

Tuning Your Bongos

It can be exciting to finally find a drum that speaks to you. After months of searching, you finally know which drum set you would like to use to begin your percussion adventure. Or, perhaps you were immediately struck by the sound of someone playing a particular drum and knew that drum was the one for you. Regardless of how you and your drums come together, it is a time of joy. Learning to properly care for your drums is an important part of continuing a long, happy relationship with your instrument, as is learning to tune them.


If your heart is set upon playing the bongos, you are in good company. Many people are used to seeing bongos that don’t require tuning, but bongos, like all drums, come in a variety of quality, styles, and playing levels. For the beginner bongo player, tuning your bongos is not going to be too difficult, but it is important that you learn to do it correctly since the two drums must work together well if you want to sound good playing them. When you first purchase your bongos, they are not likely to be tuned properly, but you can manage it easily enough.

The first thing you want to do when tuning your bongos is to loosen the heads of the drums. Bongos consist of two drums connected together and played as one. The larger drum is called the hembra and the smaller is called the macho. You loosen the heads by turning the lugs counter-clockwise. After you have loosened the heads of both the hembra and the macho, adjust the rims and then tighten, again. Turn each lug a quarter of a turn clockwise, checking to make sure the head is not pulled too tightly. Start with the macho drum, as the hembra should be tuned to a lower pitch and the head should not be as tight.

You will want to check to see that the hembra is tuned an octave apart from the macho. Check this by tapping the drums until you are satisfied with the resonance. Just as you want to tune your bongos before playing, you want to detune them after playing. Natural skin heads, especially, are prone to temperature and other environmental changes. Because of that, your heads could crack if you leave them tightened all the time.

When you are finished playing, be sure to detune your bongos by loosening the heads, again. Since it doesn’t take long to tune your bongos, this won’t be an inconvenience and the habit will preserve your drums. Even bongos with synthetic heads need to be detuned, as the wood could crack over time from too much pressure. Take good care of your bongos and they are sure to take good care of you. With proper care and tuning, your bongos will provide you with years of playing pleasure.