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Djembe technique - making good sounds - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

To discuss the free lessons available on this site.
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By drummer
thats interesting.
By kapitan
That was a really great article on proper technique. It's the same technique Mamady Keita, and Famoudou Konate teach. I longed to produce the quality sounds these masters produce. I have trouble with producing a nice crisp slap. My timing and rhythm is ok, but my sounds are uninspiring. In the process of learning to produce better sounds of course I practice, practice, and practice. I use a metronome, I use instructional cd's, and I go to as many drum circles as possible. However, I still have trouble. I have also experimented with different djembes, different skin, and different tuning tension. At the moment, I have two djembes. Both are traditional West African carved and assembled. One is made from dugara wood and has calf skin. The other is made from lenke wood and has medium thick goat skin. Both are about 12 3/4 x 25. On these djembes I have the same issue, which is too much overtone. I have tried moderate tension, and the bass and tones are ok, but the sound lingers to long. The slap is just not there, and I find I have to cup my hand with more of a conga like approach in an effort to produce one. This hurts my hand after a while, so that is no good! I then tried cranking up the tension slowly. Now I am at the point where I can use the technique mentioned in your article, but I still have this overtone I can't seem to get rid of in the slap. It's a high pitched ring. I noticed that in the instructional videos on this site the bass, tone, and slaps are very nice. The bass and tone does not linger too long, and the slaps are dry, crisp, and have no overtone ring that I can hear anyway. That is the sound I am aspiring to make. There seems to be this mixture of technique, tuning, and possibly djembe wood/skin type that is hindering me from achieving the sounds I want to produce. It certainly goes beyond technique alone. Any suggestions?
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By James
It sounds like it could be the drums? Can you hit someone else's drum that doesn't ring and rule your technique out as the cause of the problem?

It would be good to isolate the cause of the problem so you n can go about fixing it. It it's the drum that's causing the problem, it can be a real pain to get rid of.

Try putting a piece of table on the underside of the skin. The causes are, I believe varied and drums usually require work to get rid of the ring. I've heard of them, just going away and have heard of a few drums that were fine until they were re-skinned.

I'm not a drum maker so that's about all I know I'm afraid... The first thing I'd do is crank the skin up to proper tension which is tight and high. I've had a few lenke djembe's that had some overtones until I cranked them and gave them a good seeing to :djembe:

Are these new drums?
By kapitan
Thanks for the reply.

I did some research about djembe wood, and from what I have read Hare wood and Linke wood or Lenge wood (which is what I have...I was spelling it wrong) are indeed known to have a "ringier" quality to them (But not sure how that compares to the ringy quality I have). In the future I know that Iroko wood is more inline with the dryer sound I am looking for...at least in theory. I don't have a store near where I live to go physically check out a quality djembe, so I purchased mine online without hearing them first.

For now, I am going to crank it up. A diamond here, diamond there, and see what happens. They are still new. 6 month old or so. The goat skinned one I got from http://www.africanrhythmtraders.com/html/drums.html and the cow skinned one I got from http://irietones.com/professional_djembe_history.html. Within a week I had the first round of lock stitch in place, and now I have about a quarter round of diamonds.

On the goat skinned one, I am going to evenly place a couple of more diamonds. I am afraid to place them all on one side. I am a stickler about evenness. If that does not do it...them I am going to plan B, which is to redo the verticals. They seemed pretty tight when I got the drum, but perhaps the head was not seated well...I don't know.

As for the cow skinned dugara wood drum (dugara? that is what irietones says it is, but I found no info on that wood, other than that it is West African)...that one does not have the high pitched ring, but just the overtones. So I think I just need to crank that up too. (the picture of this one: http://irietones.com/images/products/DK47_1L.jpg)

Unfortunately, I have yet to be face to face with anyone who has a djembe tuned and/or the technique to produce that sound I am listening for. That awesome Malinke sound. That, of course, would be ideal.

So I guess I am wondering...does wood really got that much to do with it? I mean of course, craftsmanship does, but that aside. Let's assume that the drum was carved in the traditional manner and was more or less free from defects.
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By James
The wood matters for to a small extent. Like you say lenke (and balafon) are more melodic thank iroko, but there is another ring that is not caused by the wood, that you seem to have... that is way more than the overtones, we're talking about. This is the ring that you know is sick (bad) when you here it.

This is wood independent... I think there are many causes for this and it is a number of factors, such as, is the top of the drum round and flat, is the tension even around the skin. Bigger drums tend to ring a bit more.

As I said, I'm not all that sure on all this though, hopefully someone else can offer more advice....

Concerning eveness of pulling diamond, you can skip a few verticles, between each diamond...maintaing eveness....
User avatar
By Dugafola
i'll chime in with my thoughts...

12 3/4 x 25 inches...is that inside diameter or outside? how big are your hands?

the calf skin won't give you the 'malinke sound' you're after. assuming technique, a certain sound is attributed to type of wood, type of skin (country of origin, thickness, pigment color), mounting technique (shaved skin over, hairy skin over, 2 top rings, 3 top rings w/ cut etc) and how tight the rings fit on the shell. loose top rings could be the source of your 'ring'. The tighter the better - strive for air tight when you mount a skin. you don't want any sound escaping from b/w the ring and the shell. i usually have at least 2 drums headed for different sound and playing situations: ie. dance class, outdoors, performances etc.

the wood descriptions on the rhythm traders website aren't accurate in my opinion. hare is definitely a bit more metallic sounding if you will. i like to use the words loud and resonant. Gele wood has very similar sound charcteristics to Hare but looks more like Djalla/Acajou/Bois Rouge. i think lenke and djalla have similar sound characteristics: warm and melodic come to mind. i've played, never owned, a lot of beng and dugura shells and they look and sound similar to lenke.

i'd pull some diamonds and distribute them evenly across the head to achieve even tension. some skins, even when even tension is achieved, will sound different on the sides of skin because the skin is thinner as opposed to the tail/neck sides. new skins will often warm up and lose the overtone after a couple good sessions depending on how often and how hard you play.

crank it up as tight as you can and see what it sounds like if you haven't already. you can always back it down.
By bubudi
i agree that the #1 cause of ringiness in a djembe is the tightness of the rings. other factors include poor construction (such as the annoying ring from the remo model), skin tension (a fairly loose skin) and skin thickness (thinner skins carry more of that ring).

but personally, i think it's your technique. the reason i say that is because if it was the fault of the drum, you would not have a dry tone and bass. there would be some ringiness there too, perhaps not as obnoxious as on the slap, but noticeable enough.

also, if you watch some of the players from ivory coast, they use cow skin on their djembes. they don't do a conga slap but generally they will reach in slightly deeper into the center for the slap. it takes more force to get good tones and slaps from a cow skin but you should be able to get a good, clean sound. goat is the usual choice of skin in mali, guinea and senegambia.
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By James
That's great info guys, the rings are definitely the cause a a very ringy drum I have.

I noticed that no matter how much I pulled it, it went down again. The drum is also very off circle and as such the ring, had to be bent as the wood lost water....

If I could ever be arsed sorting that out, I'll be paying attention to the rings...

User avatar
By Dugafola
yes yes.

everyone needs to work on their slones and taps.
By kapitan
Thanks to all for the insightful responses.
The size I indicated was playing surface, and height of drum from bottom to top of skin. And my hands are like 8 inches or so...

I cranked up the goat skinned drum, and I noticed that the ring came down about a half inch! I have more skin showing around the edge now! I used this wooden mallet I have to tap down as I went around the drum. I was afraid of it becoming lopsided. Definately an indicator that the ring could have been tighter fit! But that is ok because the sound is not bad now. With my patience I managed to keep it almost perfectly balanced around the drum. I do still have a slight ring, but the sound is crispier and the decay is much shorter, so I am getting there! I am sure I still need to keep polishing my technique.

As for the cow skinned drum...tighting that did not damper the overtone. The ring did not budge though, so I believe the ring is tight fit, and it is very straight around the drum. It has an interesting slap sound. I think maybe that's just the sound of the drum, so that's ok, and I will work with it :) And I am using a slightly different technique for the slap, which is in slightly further and more emphasis on the side of my hand and tips of my last two fingers, and I bring my hand in at a slight angle as compared to the tone.
By bubudi
cow skin is tougher so it will take a lot more force to get the rings to come down but you are right, if the rings are snug against the wood they won't move much anyway. if you're getting a similar extended ringing sound on the cow skin dugura drum, try some electrical tape around the rim. it goes mostly on the side, but overlaps onto the edge of the playing surface a bit to give a dryer sound. some of the masters do this. whether you go around the rim once or twice depends on the extent of the ringing and your prefered sound. generally i go around twice. this technique probably won't do much for your lenke drum with the oversized rings.
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By Dugafola
i wouldn't put tape on your skin ever.

bang your cow skin rings with a heavy mallet. you're pretty much going to have to hit that cow skin as hard as you can to get good sound...especially if the skin is thick. typically, cow skins will go from thick to thin. i'd suggest playing the thin side.
By kapitan
I am not sure I want to put tape on my djembe either, but I just found this video of Fomoudou Konate, which clearly shows he is using tape around the rim of his djembes (at least the two in this video clip). I have no idea what he is talking about though as I do not understand the language or the subtitles. If someone can interpret that would be great. Also, the djembes, with the tape, that he is playing have the same ring that I am talking about, so I don't even think the tape is helping the sound very much.


and another view at about 6 minutes or so

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By Dugafola
i was actually referring to not putting tape on any part of the skin that vibrates.

you'll see a lot of players with tape around the rim to prevent damage due to sweat and sweaty hands. some guys just have clammy and wet hands. during long sessions or classes or gigs, the skin will start to absorb the sweat right on the bearing edge which ultimately leads to faster skin wear and a shorter overall lifespan for the skin.
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