Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
I've played djembe for a year and a half and am already beginning to get frustrated by not being able to develop good technique - by that I mean nice clean tone and slap differentiation.

I do realise I have to practise in order to get good at this, but my problem is that - this may sound silly - I don't know what my tones are meant to sound like.

After I went to a player I admire in my city and told him I wanted to develop a better technique, he showed me (among other tips) this really simple thing that I haven't come across before; playing with not much force at all, striking the drum with the same hand position for a tone and a slap, with one difference. Index, ring and pinky fingers for slaps - middle, ring and pinky fingers for tones.

I was pretty amazed at how this instantly gets the result of a distinctive sounding tone and slap. It's pretty hard to play with a lot of force like this.

I haven't come across this approach before. Does any source discuss this as an approach to tone and slap differentiation? Is this an approach you have come across before and if so did it help your technique?
I haven't come across this advice before, and have a distinct suspicion that it's not good advice.

You shouldn't have to change anything except subtly (as in, really subtly) increase the tension in your fingers for a tone, to get a larger contact area. And you shouldn't have to use any force at all. With proper technique, you can play tones and slaps both quietly and loudly.

There are quite a few threads on technique on this forum. Have a browse; you'll probably get some inspiration there.


alanbuchanan wrote: my problem is that - this may sound silly - I don't know what my tones are meant to sound like.
Then this is the first problem you need to address. Buy some cd's/dvd's, or watch some of the greatest djembefolas for free on youtube, and get a feeling how the djembe and dunun are meant to sound.

There is no standard technique. Whatever works, as long as you're getting the right sound and not hurting yourself. I just watched the documentary about late Fadouba Oulare and his technique seems to have been different from what I've seen so far, but he sounded great! He was playing both tones and slaps with very open fingers, and he seemed to have two zones of playing - one quite near the rim, and the other deeper in, like I'm used to play. I think he had several different slaps, (and that's also been covered in technique section).

The technique you mention does not seem to be well suited for speedy playing - it's extra work and extra tension to lift index or middle finger so that it does not strike.
Never heard of this technique...It is difficult to comprehend what exactly the fingers should do when making a tone or slap...Are fingers who are not involved in strike just relaxed, making only less force on impact or should they be completely uninvolved in striking skin?
After more than a decade of playing and learning djembe, I am still improving tone and slap sound and technique. Hat off to anyone who is able to play well defined tones and slaps only after one or two years of playing/ learning... In my opininon, geting nice loud, resonant, piercing tones takes at least as much learning, time and patience, than with learning slaps...