Discuss drumming technique here
By bubudi
#2268
following the thread about shoulder and back injuries, i thought i'd start this thread. i've seen many people injure themselves as a result of bad dunun technique. let's discuss how to improve our dunun technique. when refering to any particular technique, please indicate if it applies to horizontal or vertical dunun playing.

to begin with, i'd like to talk about the horizontal stick movement on the skin. it's often harder for people to begin with and involves some rotation of the arm. often i see people leaning their whole body a bit to the side when playing, which is really bad posture and likely to cause shoulder and back injuries. it can be avoided to a large degree by having the dunun at the right height, or adjusting one's sitting height to the dunun. another injury with both horizontal and vertical dunun playing is lower arm injuries resulting in a pain that goes right up the lower arm. while there is some adjustment for the body to make when beginning to play dunun, changing from vertical to horizontal (or v-v) or playing for longer periods of time, technique is the main factor.

for both horizontal and vertical playing, the stick should not be held too firmly, but not too lightly either, otherwise the stick could go flying and injure someone else :lol: the index finger is semi-extended and the thumb under and slightly behind it. the angle of the hand should be such that the thumb is almost on top, but not quite. don't have the index finger on top. the ring and little finger is tucked underneath the stick. this position/grip is also favoured by many kit drum players. it allows the stick to bounce between the ring finger and the palm of the hand.

with horizontal dunun playing, the whole arm makes the movement. there is some wrist involvement to increase the bounce, but it's only slight. the bouncing of the stick helps reduce a lot of the impact and force required. when you do that, playing becomes a lot more effortless. to begin with, many people find it helpful to use the fingers to move the stick to get a feel of that bouncing action.

another very important thing is momentum. there's a particular feeling in every dunun pattern. it creates a flow. try not to make dunun playing a cerebral exercise - get out of your headspace and feel the flow and momentum of the music. it will really make the music a lot more effortless and allow you to keep going for long periods of time. with horizontal dunun playing, it's often necessary to begin the stroke slightly early to achieve that momentum. with vertical playing, this isn't as apparent because you're aided by gravity.
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By Dugafola
#2273
make sure you play with the right sticks for the drum, hand size and your strength (more applicable to dununba).
By bubudi
#2452
very good point. try not to use drumsticks that are made for kit drums. dunun sticks are longer (ideally 40cm or 16") and generally thicker. a dununba stick should be thicker than a sangban or kenkeni stick. the optimal thickness depends not only on the size of the head of the drum but also on your own strength and build. for most people the stick should be around 2cm (3/4") thick for a dununba, 1.7cm (slightly over 5/8") thick for a sangban and just under 1.6cm (5/8") thick for a kenkeni. when playing two or 3 dunun strapped together or a vertical dunun rig you need to strike a balance with the thickness of the sticks, as too thick a stick may sound terrible on a small diameter drum like a kenkeni, and too thin a stick will not give you the desired boom on a dununba.

the striker used on the dunun bell is also very important and many people use the wrong striker. use light gauge stainless steel rod (available from hardware stores - cut to your desired length) wrapped with tape at one end to improve the grip. experiment with different lengths and at least 2 thicknesses, until you find the best weight distribution for you. the striker should be light and easy to manoeuver and bounce in your hand. if your hands sweat, some tapes like electrical tape will become too slippery. tennis racket grip tape is available at any store that sells sporting goods.

some people prefer striking the bell with a metal ring worn on the finger or thumb. there's a bit of wrist rotation involved with the thumb technique and such movements are known to cause tendonitis. wearing the ring on the finger is safer.

just remember to strike the bell lightly at all times, no matter which striker you use. even if you need to hit the skin hard, the bell can remain light. that will save you a lot of trouble in the long run and will also sound better.
Last edited by bubudi on Fri Nov 21, 2008 6:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By e2c
#2454
Something to consider: the physical size of the person who's playing.

I'm 5 ft. 4 inches and lightly built, so what works for someone who's 6 ft. 4 and is much bigger-boned than me is *not* going to work for me. (I found this out the hard way, with some coaching from an accomplished dunun player who wasn't taking these differences into account - no harm done, but I found that i simply can't do some of the things he can do without badly straining my wrists!)

I use a slightly lighter-weight bell striker than most, because of my build and because a standard-weight striker tires me out fairly quickly. I also have the feeling that it's important to choose sticks that work well with the drums you play regularly. (My sangban has fairly light calfskin heads and is very responsive; much more so than my kenkeni, which is still in the process of being broken in. It's a lot easier to "pull" sound out of the sangban with a light touch.)

Relaxation seems to be every bit as crucial - for me, anyway - as it is with playing djembe, especially when playing trad.-style. That said, I'm very new to dununs and have a lot to learn!
By bubudi
#2484
lighter bell strikers are a good idea for anyone. a lot of people play too heavily on the bells and it gets a bit hard on the ears for everyone, especially the person playing!!! you will get tired playing the bell that hard and it will lose its momentum and drag the tempo of the music. also, like e2c said, the wrist can get strained with a striker that is too heavy. tho if the striker is too thin, it will sound empty.

the position of the stick or striker in your hand is also important. i see a lot of people hold both the stick and striker at their ends. a much better position is just up from the end, where you have easy bounce and control.
Last edited by bubudi on Fri Nov 21, 2008 6:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
By bubudi
#2485
here's a little bit about playing position for traditional style (horizontal) dunun playing. i see a lot of people stand or sit behind the drum although it would be easier to position oneself out slightly along the side of the drum that you are going to hit, and have yourself facing slightly into the drum so you don't have to rotate your arm and wrist to hit the drum. try to experiment a bit to work out your optimum point to stand or sit - one which will give you an easy angle to hit the middle of the drum with no arm or wrist rotation. don't stand so close to the end of the drum that you can't get much swing.
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By e2c
#2489
bubudi wrote:lighter bell strikers are a good idea for anyone. a lot of people play too heavily on the bells and it gets a bit hard on the ears for everyone, especially the person playing!!! you will get tired playing the bell that hard and it will lose its momentum and drag the tempo of the music. also, like e2c said, the wrist can get strained with a striker that is too heavy. tho if the striker is too thin, it will sound empty.

the position of the stick or striker in your hand is also important. i see a lot of people hold both the stick and striker at their ends. a much better position is just up from the end, where you have easy bounce and control.
My feeling about this - as with other aspects of djembe and dunun - is that it's about finesse, and producing the sound you want with as little physical effort as possible. It's not an easy thing for beginning players to "get" (me very much included!), but I have found that stamina increases over time; also that conserving energy allows one to play for a much longer period of time. (And by "conserving energy," I'm also referring to posture, positioning, learning to use the sticks - and the rest of one's body - in an efficient way, etc. - like you mentioned above.)

Of course, I fall into the "overplaying" trap at times without even realizing what I'm doing - but I think we all face that. And I'd rather rein myself in a bit in order to be able to play longer, because who wants to have to stop when they're having a good time?! :)

I suppose a lot depends on what a given bell/set of bells sound like. Some sing, others don't; some have to be coaxed a bit.
By bubudi
#2491
yes, there's an element of channeling your enthusiasm so that instead of expressing it by playing with great force, you put it to playing effortlessly, which makes it easy to achieve and maintain the right swing. when, after lots of practice, a more effortless playing becomes second nature to you, you will find it easier to respond to the group vibes and the soloist's direction. you'll be more engaged with each person in the ensemble. you'll be smiling and having a good time without straining yourself or getting fatigued. people will then appreciate your playing more.
By bubudi
#2502
here's a bit about perfecting your technique on the two basic notes on all the dunun - the open and press notes. with both traditional (horizontal) and ballet (vertical) methods of playing, there should be sufficient bounce in the open note to easily facilitate a double stroke.

in the traditional style, it's obvious after a bit of playing experience that many patterns have double strokes and some of them need to be pushed just a little bit. but just because the ballet style dunun are hit with two sticks doesn't mean that double strokes are not necessary - the ballet dunun patterns are hybrids of 2 or 3 traditional dunun patterns. while many patterns are simplified, it's also nice to play patterns that are closer to the original, where you can hear all the notes (or nearly all) that would be played had each of the traditional dunun parts been played by 3 different people. djole is the most common rhythm you will see this principle applied to, also soko. but most rhythms can be played that way, and it's a cool way to play because you become a one-person dunun section! when you start doing this, double strokes become necessary and you will not be able to maintain your momentum at a good tempo if your stick movement is driven purely by arm movement. the stick bounce i described in my first post is necessary.

this bounce is not only a technique for double strokes - it should become part of every open note because it will reduce the force required to hit the drum and save you from various arm and wrist injuries in the long run. it will also give you that effortlessness that will make it easy to keep a momentum going that drives the rhythm with the correct feel at all tempos.

every dunun has its sweet spot. usually, it is in the centre of the drum, often it's just off from dead-centre. once you find the drum's sweet spot, watch that you keep hitting it there.

for the press stroke, the angle of the stick is altered and the stick is pressed into the skin, where it is momentarily held. this stroke is also called the closed or muffled stroke, but it is not merely a touch note to keep you in time. it's an important note and adds to the melody and texture of the music! while the note is softer and somewhat muffled compared with the open stroke, it should be easily audible in the ensemble and sound distinctly higher in pitch than the open note. when beginning to work on this sound, it is easy to fall into one of five traps:
1. the stick is not held with enough control so it bounces a couple of times on the skin, and instead of a fairly distinct note it sounds like a muddy version of the open note.
2. the stick is hit at the right angle and velocity but is pressed for too long, so it becomes difficult to play the next stroke in time.
3. the stick is not held to the skin enough in order to produce a sound which is sufficiently higher in pitch and the resulting sound sounds similar to the open note.
4. the stick is hit at an angle only marginally different from that used in the open note. the resulting sound sounds like a muffled version of the open note.
5. the stick is hit at too much of an angle. if enough force is used, the sound will be distinct and high pitched, but too much so! also, it strains the forearm and wrist and you will cause injuries this way.

as you can see, the angle of the stick on the press stroke should be just enough to raise the pitch to where it harmonises with the other note. there is no definite angle, as this will be individual from person to person and depend on other factors such as length of stick, size of drum, etc. generally speaking, somewhere in the vicinity of 30 degrees works the best. in order to maintain the momentum of the music, the stick should not be pressed too hard into the drum or kept pressed for too long, but also not be pressed too weekly so as to bounce on the skin or be pressed for so short a time as to not produce a distinct note.

the position of the press stroke is generally a bit off from dead-centre. some people prefer playing it a touch to the side while others just a touch above or a combination of the two. the right place is the one that feels right for you and gets the best sound. one of these days i might get some pictures together to show the correct stick technique.

when you are in good form, you should not normally experience any pain from playing the dunun. good form includes building your strength and endurance gradually by playing in dance classes and practicing in your own time, as well as a thorough warm-up before every session.

if you are in reasonably good playing form and you are still experiencing pain, check your technique on both strokes as well as your posture and the position of your stick on the head of the drum. if you find yourself having to hit harder, chances are you've moved the end of the stick too far off the center of the drum head, or you have lost your stick bounce. if the press stroke is causing you the pain or strain, you are probably hitting the skin with the stick at too wide an angle.

there are many exercises you can play to help develop your technique and to warm up with after some good stretches. i'm sure others can chip in some of their favourites. i've included some for horizontal dunun. a good one to begin with is this pattern:
ex 1
x x - |x x - |x x - |x x - |x x - |x x - |x x - |x x -
c - - |o o - |c - - |o o - |c - - |o o - |c - - |o o -
next vary the placement of this pattern to go on the offbeats. i.e.
ex 2
x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x
o - c |- - o |o - c |- - o |o - c |- - o |o - c |- - o
ex 3
- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x
- o o |- c - |- o o |- c - |- o o |- c - |- o o |- c -

after you have this going for a while effortlessly, this sangban pattern from ngri is perfect for getting nice double open strokes while also working on quality press strokes without over-pressing so as to maintain a good flow of the rhythm:
ex 4
x - x |- x x |- x - |x - x |x - x |- x x |- x - |x - x
o - c |- o o |- c - |c - o |o - c |- o o |- c - |c - o

here are some exercises to develop hand independence and keep you playing on the offbeats without losing the beat. beginners should step to keep the beat.
ex 5a
x - x x|- x x -|x - x x|- x x -|x - x x|- x x -|x - x x|- x x -
- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -
when you have that going well, vary the bell pattern:
ex 5b
x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -
- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -|- - o o|- - c -
next level of difficulty:
ex 6
x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -|x - x -
- - o o|- - o o|- - o o|- - o o|- - o o|- - o o|- - o o|- - o o
next, let's use the kenkeni pattern from dunungbe as an exercise to develop rhythmic independence, starting with the most commonly used traditional bell pattern from hamana. again beginners may find it useful to step on the beat.
ex 7
- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x |- x x
- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o
ex 8
x - x |- x - |x - x |- x - |x - x |- x - |x - x |- x -
- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o
and finally, strive to get this. it's a challenge to get, but in effect you will be playing onto the beat with the bell (keeping time) while playing the offbeat pattern with your other hand. pretty cool!
ex 9
x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x |x - x
- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o |- - o |- o o
note the above combo is actually used by many kenkeni players when playing the dununba rhythms. the same principle can be applied to other rhythms such as the kenkeni pattern for soli or the sangban pattern for mendiani.
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By Rhythm House Drums
#4916
So here is an issue that is frustrating for me...

I've been playing dunun for a little over a year now and am developing a sharp pain in my left wrist. Here is the kicker... it only hurts when I play the bell or sometimes I feel it when I play ballet style. It doesn't hurt throughout the day, I can play djembe for 6 hours and wont feel a thing... but 5 min. on dunun bell and I've got to stop. The pain creeps up as I play and 5 min. into playing it HURTS... the second I stop playing it stops hurting. I know the reasonable answer is to stop playing the bell... but NO... The more I play dunun the more I enjoy it. I started feeling the pain about a month ago, and still do. I've been avoiding playing because of it. I broke that wrist when I was in middle school... and am wondering if that has anything to do with it. But I wonder how I can change my technique so that wrist doesn't hurt. I'm doing a workshop with Fode' Moussa Camara today (really excited) and I'm going to wear a wrist brace to see if that helps.

I'm curious if anyone else has run into this issue and if anyone has suggestions.
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By Beerfola
#4919
When I get pain in my bell hand it's usually because I've been gripping the striker too hard. It needs to stay loose in your hand. The wrist pain could be from your hand position. I prefer my thumb to be on the side as if gripping a handlebar as opposed to on top as in a handshake. Two completely different wrist movements.
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By Dugafola
#4928
Beerfola wrote:When I get pain in my bell hand it's usually because I've been gripping the striker too hard. It needs to stay loose in your hand. The wrist pain could be from your hand position. I prefer my thumb to be on the side as if gripping a handlebar as opposed to on top as in a handshake. Two completely different wrist movements.
what he said. loosen grip. change your grip. try a different weight striker. try a ring too.

if i know i'm going to be ragin dununs for a dance class or performance, i almost exclusively use a ring. i'll even get some twine and tie it to the bell just in case i drop it. i prefer it because of the different positions i can hold it and wear it on my fingers.
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By e2c
#4935
Rhythm House Drums wrote:So here is an issue that is frustrating for me...

I've been playing dunun for a little over a year now and am developing a sharp pain in my left wrist. Here is the kicker... it only hurts when I play the bell or sometimes I feel it when I play ballet style. It doesn't hurt throughout the day, I can play djembe for 6 hours and wont feel a thing... but 5 min. on dunun bell and I've got to stop. The pain creeps up as I play and 5 min. into playing it HURTS... the second I stop playing it stops hurting. I know the reasonable answer is to stop playing the bell... but NO... The more I play dunun the more I enjoy it. I started feeling the pain about a month ago, and still do. I've been avoiding playing because of it. I broke that wrist when I was in middle school... and am wondering if that has anything to do with it. But I wonder how I can change my technique so that wrist doesn't hurt. I'm doing a workshop with Fode' Moussa Camara today (really excited) and I'm going to wear a wrist brace to see if that helps.

I'm curious if anyone else has run into this issue and if anyone has suggestions.
What the other guys said - plus, you could just play without the bell for a while. (Seriously - not everyone in Djembe Country uses them, anyway.)

Stretching before and after you play is a really good idea, too - you don't want to get to the point where your wrist is hurting when you're *not* playing. That's injury territory and liable to keep you off the bell for a long time. It's not like you're dealing with a surface that has any give to it, after all... Metal is very unforgiving.

You've got nerves running up each side of your wrist (well, everyone does! ;)) Better to do some warm-ups, cool-downs - and take some breaks from the bells - than ending up with a nerve entrapment problem, you know? I have one of those, and it's not fun... I've learned to work with and around it, but I have to respect the fact that the injury is there, period - especially when it's not bothering me. It's so easy for me to overdo when I don't have pain... and then I end up wearing a wrist splint for a while.

the stretches here (a direct link to a PDF) are pretty good overall, and geared toward percussionists: http://www.innovativepercussion.com/pag ... rmance.pdf

The wrist flexor stuff is key. I now do slightly less "aggressive" versions of most of these stretches, and they're a huge help. When I don't do them, I pay for it. You don't want to do that! :)

Edited to add: The stiffer your wrist and forearm are (from gripping the striker, etc.), the more likely you are to have problems. Figure that you're hitting a very hard object - your body needs to "give" a bit in order to be able to handle the impact without your getting hurt. Stretching your wrist flexors will help a *lot* with that - and playing with "loose," relaxed wrists will really help overall, on both djembe and duns. (At least, as far as I know - and I'm no expert!)

* BTW, I'm talking with a PT practice about some of the technique stuff we're all dealing with... something might come from that. I'll keep you all posted.
By bubudi
#4950
some great points made by all. to summarise:
  • stretch and warm up before playing, cool down/stretch after playing
    stay relaxed
  • aim for economy of energy - the bounce of your stick should maintain a momentum that makes your playing effortless
  • keep an eye on your stick to make sure it is hitting the 'sweet spot' of the drum (usually in the centre, or just off centre)
  • hold your sticks and strikers in the right place - just a bit up from the end. this will give you more control and bounce.
  • go soft on the bell while maintaining good volume on the skin. if you play the bell loudly you stand to injure your ears as well as your wrist/arm
  • try different sticks and bell strikers. avoid using sticks designed for drumset. find what works best for you, remember that thicker/weightier sticks tend to have more volume, but the ideal stick thickness depends on the diameter of the drum head.
  • hold the stick so that you get good bounce and control. the index finger is slightly in front and the ring finger and pinky are underneath adding support and facilitating bounce of the stick.
  • use the right angle, grip and pressure for the press strokes. hit the skin just off center somewhere in the vicinity of 30º. this requires a slight change of grip. the resulting sound should be short, crisp and higher pitched than the open note, somewhat softer yet audible
  • be aware of your body posture and position - you should not have to bend over the drums do any twisting. if playing horizontal dunun, ensure you have a good amount of room to swing your arm and are facing slightly in towards the drum so that you don't need to rotate your arm or wrist.
  • ensure dunun are the right playing height for you. if playing sangban or kenkeni a comfortable strap will give you greater control of the playing height.
  • from time to time consciously tune into your body, relax any tensions, adjust technique and reduce volume on bell
  • if you become really sore give yourself a break for a couple of days, then refine your technique in your own time without the pressure of playing for others. work consciously to perfect your technique and get it more relaxed and effortless so you don't injure yourself anymore.