Playing one Djembe exclusively

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Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Pigtafe » Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:01 am

I'm getting a reasonable collection of Djembes and Ive got probably 4 that I really love the feel and sound of. When im practicing, I like to play one for a while and then I think I might play on another one for a bit and so on. My question is, will my practice be more effective if I play and perform exclusively on the one drum?
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Tue Apr 04, 2017 10:32 am

I suspect that playing the same drum endlessly isn't going to be all that beneficial. After all, what good am I as a djembe player if the only drum I can play well is my favourite one?

Part of the skill is being able to coerce good sound out of any drum within a minute or two of starting to play it. Watch people like Mamady, Epizo, or Famoudou; they can make a bucket sound awesome…

I think the opposite is true: play several drums and try to make all of them sound good. It'll teach you something about adjusting to each drum's character and figuring out how it wants to be hit to get the best possible sound.

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Dugafola » Tue Apr 04, 2017 5:22 pm

i think for beginners to intermediate players, playing one drum almost exclusively can be beneficial because it'll help you hone your technique so you can get consistent tones and slaps and bass.

this brings up some thoughts i shared with a friend the other day. it's OK to have a practice drum and a gig drum....or other types of situational type drums. i have some lower tuned drums that i use in my house for practice and then i have one drum that i bring to dance classes and foly sessions with friends.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Wed Apr 05, 2017 9:18 am

Good point about being a beginner. Before you can play lots of drums well, it helps to be able to play one drum moderately well :)

I keep a boogaraboo around mainly for gig situations where I'm asked to play some accompaniment, possibly with a few other musicians who might play guitar, or piano, or whatever. A djembe usually sounds like shattering glass in that kind of environment, and the boogaraboo fits in much better.

And I have four djembes (soon to be three) that I use for djembe performances and teaching. Two are essential in that situation because, like it or not, skins have a habit of breaking at the worse possible moment. If anything important comes up, I always have second drum ready to go. (The third and fourth djembe I own because I can't help myself ;) )

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Pigtafe » Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:28 am

It is good to have options. The drum I had been playing the most time on, just ripped last week when the cyclone came through Queensland last week. Must be the humidity? I definitely found having one drum when learning was helpful even though it wasn't a great drum. That moment when I slapped a really nice Djembe and thought, wow I'm doing it and I want one of these! I do love playing on different drums and working through the sounds, figuring it out.
One perspective of my question is a traditional one. Modern Djembe players may carry a quiver of drums with them but would a small village drummer in Africa have many drums or just one?
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Thu Apr 06, 2017 11:21 am

Modern Djembe players may carry a quiver of drums with them but would a small village drummer in Africa have many drums or just one?

Traditionally? My guess is just one. Maybe, very rarely, a second one as a backup. Drums were just too damn expensive back then.

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Dugafola » Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:37 pm

i know each djembefola in Les Ballet African in guinea will get 2 jembes a year. That could have changed but i'm fairly certain they get instruments paid for.

When Bolokada was a working village musician, he had to carve all his own jembes.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby boromir76 » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:06 am

Playing and exercising on only one djembe exclusively, would probably not make one a better player, but it would not make him a lot worse eather. Playing on solely one drum in practice means that drummer has not to change and adapt his striking technique when playind on a different sized, skined, etc. djembe. That's basically it.
Exercising and ability to play on variety of different styles, shapes and sizes of djembes in general is probably better for players skill, than sticking just on one drum. Anyway, I wouldn't worry to much about this, or give it some special attention. Versatility in this regard actually comes with mileage, rehearsing and years of playing, not changing drums just for the sake of it.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Carl » Thu May 25, 2017 7:33 pm

I have two main drums. Unfortunately, due to my schedule I rarely have both tuned up.

Regarding playing different drums, I think it is good practice to play looser and tighter drums. the tension of the skin dramatically affects your technique.

With newer students I recommend playing a lower tuned drum with the idea that it will build better muscle/technique. Move to a higher tuned drum as your technique improves. (subtle control of a high tuned drum requires better technique)

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby djembefeeling » Sat May 27, 2017 8:08 am

That is surprising to me. I think with a high pitched drum you learn better technique from the start. Good technique is not about muscle I would argue. But when you say a lower tuned drum suffices because beginners struggle with coordination in the first place I am with you...
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Sat May 27, 2017 1:44 pm

So, I can see the point here, in the sense that a low-tuned drum makes it quite hard to extract a crisp slap. Crank the skin, and the slaps pop so much more easily…

When I first started playing, I kept tuning up and up and up because I had poor technique and poor distinction between tones and slaps. I kept producing slaps that weren't quite slaps, and got really frustrated. But a high-tuned drum made sounds that were more "slap-like", so I figured that was better. (Never mind that my "tones" didn't sound a lot different from my "slaps".)

As my technique got better, I ended up learning that the slaps are the easy ones. It's the tones that are tough, especially on a drum that's cranked to within an inch of its life…

Overall, I'm not sure that there is the "one true way" of tension on a skin. Give a student a low-tuned drum, and they'll have a hard time making good slaps. Give them a high-tuned drum, and they'll have a hard time making good tones.

What this boils down to is that it's hard to make good tones and slaps. So, give them a medium-tuned drum and let them suffer… :)

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Carl » Mon May 29, 2017 8:28 pm

Some points of clarity here... "what is a low tuned drum?" would be an excellent question.

If a drum is too low slaps become very difficult! so there is (imo) a minimum tension. For me a minimum tension would be where the bass and tones are well differentiated. If the hand position of a tone is still producing a lot of bass sound, add a couple of diamonds. :-)

In my experience, I've found it easier to fix questionable slaps than questionable tones. I think part of this is psychological. Slaps are much showier to beginners (and even intermediates). So Tones often take a back seat in focus.
However, as a player gets better, they start working on "pushing tones and slaps apart" to maximize the difference. At that point I really like to work on their tones. They are starting to hear subtleties that are missed by beginners.

Also, beginners tend to not want to "stand out" and are often happier on a lower tuned drum.

good points all around... as long as it leads to the students "suffering". :-)

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby djembefeeling » Tue May 30, 2017 7:50 am

I do share both of your experiences, that is most beginners do not like to stick out and thus rather want lower tuned drums, and most djembes win in slaps while they loose in tone and base. Also, beginners love the deep base, so they usually buy djembes they later regret to have bought.

BUT - we all have this misunderstanding in the beginning that we cannot play everything though we do hear everything aptly, while in reality our hearing is as limited as our playing. So, to teach good technique on that level also means to teach listening and hearing. Most students say they cannot hear the difference when I say a tone they played was really good while another was crap. They are simply overwhelmed by the rich spectrum of frequencies induced by a typical lower tuned djembe. A higher tuned djembe looses this rich spectrum. Thus the difference between tone and slap gets clearer. And even though most djembes then loose in tone and base, there are some that don't.

A higher tuned djembe is like bright halogen light, very bright and shiny but tiresome for your senses. That is why the old generation of djembefolas regretted the new iron djembes with their much higher tension. The richness of possible modulation of sound decreased substantially. Which for beginners and their limited hearing is an advantage.
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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby michi » Tue May 30, 2017 9:55 am

A higher tuned djembe is like bright halogen light, very bright and shiny but tiresome for your senses. That is why the old generation of djembefolas regretted the new iron djembes with their much higher tension. The richness of possible modulation of sound decreased substantially. Which for beginners and their limited hearing is an advantage.


I find myself agreeing. While the glitter and the sparks coming from a djembe that is cranked to within an inch of its life are attractive, there is something about a "not-so-highly-tuned" djembe that seems a lot more expressive to me. The Famoudou Konate workshops I attended drove that point home. He isn't the fastest or most technically skilled player by a long shot. His djembes are tuned high, but only moderately high. (His slaps don't sound like small explosions going off…) He can't play many of the more advanced riffs that modern players have come up with.

But, man, just sit there for a while and listen when he plays. He works the instrument. He is a master at playing with the overtone spectrum of the drum. His expressiveness and sensitivity are almost without equal. He likes to play quietly a lot of the time…

I never get bored when listening to Famoudou. He keeps surprising me, and he keeps putting a smile on my face. I do get bored listening to some of the younger hotshot djembefolas who leave Famoudou for dead in terms of speed and technique. But those players don't have Famoudou's artistic sense and sensitivity.

It's not all about skill, or about the pitch of the drum. And, like with all extremes, make a djembe that's extreme, and you'll get extreme sound in one dimension (such as slaps that sound like pistol shots). But, every time we push things further in one dimension, we diminish some other dimension, such as the ability to play quietly or to produce really fat tones.

The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle to me. That's where Famoudou rules.

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Re: Playing one Djembe exclusively

Postby Carl » Tue May 30, 2017 3:54 pm

Agree'd on all points.

My point about how low is a low tuned drum is very important. As you said, listening is a skill. and I can't tell you how many times I"ve had to "convince" a new-bie to tune the drum up!

In all honesty. I do not think I really had that problem the last couple of years that I taught regularly (2012 - 2014 ish)

I usually talk about "accompaniment" tuning and "soloist" tuning. Relative concepts I am sure, but it helps to get people thinking about how their drum sounds.

as to Famoudou... Hell yes! I could listen to him play under 90 bpm all day long and not lose interest.
Speed is only one way to show skill (and not a particularly important one to me)

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