Build djembe drumming speed, stamina and improve your djembe technique

Super fast Thomas Guei - (C) Associazione DJEMBE -

There are many different core skills needed to play djembe well. All of these areas need attention and often the fastest way to improve your drumming is to focus on each of these core aspects individually.

On the forum, some people were discussing what they are working on, and I realised that a youtube video that claims to show a Thomas Guei solo phrase was getting some attention. I had come across it myself recently and I’ve even heard it mentioned here in Berlin, by a friend of mine who’s been playing it for a while.

I decided to give it a go as it has a few characteristics that are interesting and I have a few reasons for thinking that it could be good for my drumming.

Having figured out and written down what it actually is, I’m less convinced that this is an actual solo phrase. It’s timing is straight, and I don’t find it particlarly musical, but then Thomas does do some crazy stuff that you don’t really see other people doing. He must be one of the fastest djembe players in history. Here’s a little clip of him showing us what he can do.

It would be very interesting if someone could post a video clip of Thomas playing this phrase, or tell us that he taught it to them. I commented on the original video, and the person who posted it says that it’s a phrase that Thomas often plays, but that it wasn’t Thomas who taught it to him.

Regardless of it’s origins, I think it’s definitely useful for working on your technique, stamina and speed.

Once you’ve begun to create clear on consistent tones and slaps, one challenge that comes next is to be able to maintain the same clarity in pitch at speed. It is very common to see the quality of your notes deteriorate at speed, and focusing on improving this requires playing the same thing repeatedly.

If you were to play this phrase, starting slowly and then building up speed it would certainly begin to push your abilities.

The phrase is interesting in that the first part cycles every 5 16th notes and is a mixture of slaps tones and flams. It is also interesting that the last 4 notes are played <right hand><right hand><left hand><left hand>, which would certainly pull me out of my normal way of playing. It also makes me wonder about why the handing would be such, unless you were doing magic miming with your hands at the same time.

I have notated the phrase so that anyone who’s interested can learn it at their own pace. The big letters are for dominant hand (right hand for most) and the smaller letters are for non-dominant hand.

Let me know what you think? How do you work on improving your djembe technique? What about your stamina and speed?

Credits: Thanks to Associazione DJEMBE –, for the cool photo of  Thomas.

Author: James

James loves music, especially Djembe drum music. He has been studying traditional djembe drumming since 2004. Nearly all his free time goes into developing

15 thoughts on “Build djembe drumming speed, stamina and improve your djembe technique”

  1. Thomas Guei is impressive, very impressive indeed! Speed and technique are obvious here and he masters both in an unique way. The “solo phrase” (I will put it between quotation marks, because its harmony is really quite special and would fit only very specific sets of rhythm) also presents a one of a kind possibility to improve your coordination. Just like James said, it makes you do hand combinations, to which you are not used at all! And as soon as the sound starts getting clearer and the phrasing becomes gradually “automated”, the results can be surprising.

    I started practicing this phrase and cannot get enough of its unusual, I would even say, crazy combinations. They just keep on pushing you forward, as you feel the results quite instantly. Next step is to play it faster, which will demand much more of your brain, but at the same time will increase the fun :p

    Grab your drums then, and

  2. Hi Simon, Thanks for asking. The big letters are for dominant hand (right hand for most) and the smaller letters are for non-dominant hand.

    As you can see the handing is very strange and is one of the more complex challenges of playing this piece.

  3. When i wanted to fix my speed and stamina, i started by the time, playing accompaniement by metronome is one of the best tool.
    If you got time, no problem to match the speed you want, and pain become irrelevant.

  4. If you start this rhythm on the flam, using the first 2 notes a pickups, it changes the feel and creates even more interesting combinations of the 5 note motif.

  5. @Drdjembe, I agree a metronome is usefull and a good tip. I guess most are easier to play at the same tempo than some of the combinations used for solo. I’m sure this works too though, Yamama comes to mind.

    Is it possible with a metronome to have it continously speed up, over time, that could be interesting.

  6. Re: Is it possible with a metronome to have it continously speed up, over time, that could be interesting.

    It would seem to be self defeating to have a metronome “speed up over time”. The whole idea is to keep you “on” time and reduce the natural tendency to want to speed up as the rhythm becomes easier for you to play. Then you can step your speed up to the next level and stay on that pace consistently. Having a metronome that speeds up might push your individual hand speed, but it would not serve your group to stay rhythmic, if everyone is trying push their speed to their own varying capabilities. Metronomes are strictly about rock solid timing, as far as I know.

  7. I hear a sort of Tumbao Rhythm, when I start at the two Bass strokes with the strong hand….(i.e. I put the 1 two strokes in advance)…

  8. Cool Vid!! Doing Mamma Pappa (right hand right hand, left hand left hand) is like a transition. It actually increases your speed of done correctly. My Master has drilled this technique in us since day one. I’m sure he drums as fast as Thomas. It’s not just repetition but also knowing how to transition.

  9. I agree with many of the other commenters.. Something about this rhythm/pattern just feels good and invites you to push.. I’m teaching it to myself left handed so that I really push my limbs and brain to get it “right” 😀

    And concerning the handing.. you only have to look at Congolese and it’s offspring Conga drumming to see where the double stroke handing becomes invaluable..
    Thanks for the vid, links and notation!

  10. Hi everybody, thanks for the topic ! Very interesting :-)
    Christina and I played with Thomas Guei and i can tell you that a metronome is in his head ! More seriously, this master is ALWAYS in the tempo and his speed is meaningful, expresses a different intensity according to the message. As far as speed and metronome are concerned, just listen to Thomas guei solo in this video (at 03:00) :

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