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Playing one Djembe exclusively - Page 3 - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

Discuss drumming technique here
User avatar
By Dugafola
boromir76 wrote:
michi wrote:
....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.
Could not agree more here. Famodou is a poet expressing himself through the djembe instead through words. It isn't about the speed, versatility or power when it comes to his playing, it is all about the feeling, timing and expression... Also his style of playing diverses from many especially joung generation players, where I often get the sense that they are trying to squeeze as many notes in one bar ass possible. He uses opositte aproach, where "less is more". He is probably the best at using silence and pauses as integral part of music. When it comes to sound, not so crancked up djembe with ritch sound and longer sustain is probably best suited for this aproach in contrast to super poppy and short cut sounding djembes tuned for lightning fast and dense soloing...
there's some old cassette recordings of Fams from the 80s (maybe early 90s) where he plays more notes and fills up the melody. it's actually really nice cause his feeling and timing are all there, but there's just more of it.
User avatar
By Dugafola
the kid wrote:
Are we really more pleased by higher drums. Or are Africans more pleased with low drums. I would think that the Famoudou appreciation mentioned above is prove of us liking the lower slower sound to say someone like Bassidi Kone. Famoudou will always win that competition imo. I mean his resource of albums blows most if not all out of the water. That is communicating the culture rather than the newest fastest player on the tightest drum.
i hope that's not a dig at bassidi. i can tell you many great things about that guy!!! love him! sure he plays like a machine, but he's one of the most level headed, grounded young masters i've ever met.

korman wrote:Or .. it may be that his playing style changed with older age. Fadouba Oulare also played moderately high djembe and sparser notes.

i agree here. you can compare the come drum cassette to the CD that my friends at Abaraka put out. although he does still crush on that CD too!
User avatar
By batadunbata
Re playing one Djembe exlusively:

I think there is an advantage in playing one Djembe at a time. Not necessarily for every session, but at least sometimes. This helps tuning in to it deeply, as does leaving time after the session before playing a different one so the memory can sink in and become more fully integrated.

Re lower pitched vs higher pitched:

Very informative discussion.
I'd just like to add that tuning up does more than raise pitch and reduce range. It also reduces dissonance. Lower tuned Djembes have a lot of overtones, and and the sound isn't as clear. So tuning up helps to make the sounds more focused and differentiated. There's a loss in richness, and playing overtones is fun, but it helps clarity.
And they aren't just louder due to the pitch - pitch is separate from volume - the dissonance causes loss of energy due to frequencies canceling each other out - cross interferance.
I have mixed feelings because tuning up reduces the range, ideally I'd be able to quickly change tunings, but I find I prefer tuning on the high side of medium for more lively character.
Of course there's such a thing as too high, and every drum has it's own sweet spots.
User avatar
By djembefeeling
batadunbata wrote:- pitch is separate from volume -
To my knowledge it isn't. Higher pitch does transport more sound energy. That is important to know while playing slap and tone. In our culture, we tend to stress important messages in voice or alarms with high pitch. So you can often see djembeplayers from our own cultural background play slaps with more force than tones, thus magnifying the difference even more. African djembefolas often say that we cannot play suitable tones, such that are as loud and clear as slaps. To get the balance right, you need to play the tones harder, just because they are lower in pitch and transport less sound energy than the slaps.
User avatar
By batadunbata
That's very interesting about playing tones louder than slaps. I do find tones are especially difficult, but that concept helps to understand how to bring the tones and slaps closer in loudness.
Thanks for sharing that insight.

It's certainly true that the higher the pitch a sound is, the louder it sounds for an equal amount of energy/volume. But loudness and volume are separate qualities.

Consider these first two facts (1 and 2a/b) about why higher pitch sounds seem louder, even though they are not higher in volume. (generally speaking, not specificaly to Djembe tuning which is more complicated)
The third fact (3) explains why higher tuned Djembes are also higher in overall volume.
And the fourth (4) fact explains why they also require less energy to play for the same volume/loudness.

1. Definitions:
Volume is a measure of "quantity of energy imparted per second", not perceived "loudness".
It's based on amplitude (size of waves x frequency), whereas loudness is relative to the ear.

Pitch is on the other hand, is only a measure of frequency of vibration of the soundwaves.
It's not a measure of amplitide (height) of the waves. Therefore it can be high or low volume at the same pitch.

So low pitch/frequency "bass" can sound "quiet", but in fact be high energy/amplitude, and hence high "volume". Very low bass would be felt, rather than heard, (sub woofers etc.).
High pitch sounds can contain relatively much lower energy/volume/amplitude, but still sound much much louder.

2. Decibel ratings and how our hearing modulates sound:
A) Our hearing is not on a linear scale, so the true volume actually doubles every ten decibels.
60 Decibels is actually twice the "volume" of 50 Decibels, but our hearing adjusts the sensitivity as sounds get louder, hence the Decibel scale is designed to decrease the value by 1/2 every ten Db. 100Db is 32 times the true volume of 50Db, not 2 times.

This is because our hearing amplifies low-volume sounds, and dampens high-volume sounds. So we can hear whispers or the crunch of leaves a predator makes when sneaking, but not be deafened by loud noises.

How it works:
On the Decibel scale, every ten Decibels equals a doubling of volume.
I.E. 60dB = 2 x 50Db and so on...
So a chainsaw @ ~ 105-120Db is actually much more than double 50-60Db.
The true volume/energy would double 5 to 7 times. (Which btw, is not as simple as multiplying by 2x5 (10) or 2x7 (14). This is because it gets larger each time: 50 x 2 = 100 , x 2 = 200, x 2 = 400, x 2 = 800, x 2 =1600 ----->So --->50:1600, or 1:32 is the ratio between 50Db and 100Db)
Meaning 100Db contains 32x more volume/energy per second, than 50Db.

So why does high pitch sound louder? Why is it that the higher the pitch, the less energy/volume it requires to sound "loud"?
This may be because high pitch sounds are usually cries of distress, or an indication that something is happening suddenly, such as something breaking or being struck quickly. The faster something happens, the higher the frequency of vibrations will be set off.

B) Also, our ear drums are small diameter, so they resonate with high frequency much more than low.

3. Cross cancellation in low tuned Djembes does lower the actual volume, not just loudness.
As I mentioned in my previous post, higher pitch drumskin reduce overtones and dissonance, so there is less cross interference/cancellation of sound waves, which means more energy is preserved and turns into "sound" which we can hear.
So low pitched drums are actually lower volume, not just less "loud".

4. Tighter skins are easier to impart energy into, they "absorb" less energy, and therefore less energy is required to get them moving, so they are "louder" for the same amount of energy imparted by the hand. This means they are more responsive and lively.
This only goes so far however, since they also have a lower limit on how much energy they can receive before becoming fully taught/stiff. A looser skin will allow more energy to be imparted before becoming tight. This is part of why higher tuned skins have less "range", and a looser skin can create a bigger bass sound.
User avatar
By djembefeeling
Thanks for the detailed physics! I did read somewhere that higher frequency sounds do have more energy. It is obvious that you can have different volumes of sounds at a certain frequency. But what about the energy of two sounds with different frequencies but the same amplitude? In light, those waves with higher frequencies do contain more energy, but it seems to be tricky to compare that with sound since energy of light is related to quanta...

Anyway, it seems I have to restrict my argument about slap and tone to the physiological aspect. Higher frequencies do have more phon, not more db.

Another argument of yours makes me curious. The cross cancelation of waves in lower tuned drums with more overtones results in less volume. It that true? Can't one argue that additional frequencies add to the overall volume? Or is it that the energy of the stroke in cranked djembes then concentrates on the smaller spectrum of frequencies?

There is a physiological aspect of overtones, too. People in our culture tend to buy those djembes with less overtones or at least those where the overtones are in harmony with the basic sound. But I always advice them to test a djembe in an ensemble, because the overtones can make a difference there. Your djembe might be noticable because of the overtones and you need to drum less hard since your playing is then more distinguishable.
User avatar
By batadunbata
You're welcome Djembefeeling, I'm glad it wasn't TMI, I get a bit carried away sometimes, and geek out on people.

Yes, you're right, if two sounds have the same amplitude, then the higher the frequency, the higher the volume. The metaphor I learned was:

Imagine that the sound is water moving along in a river.
-The width/depth of the river is like the amplitude (how "much" water/sound/energy is moving)
-The speed of the river is like the pitch/frequency (how "fast" it's moving)

So the volume (of water, or sound) is based on both factors multiplied.

But it's more complicated than that in reality.
Just as a high pitch sound of the same amplitude will contain more energy per second (volume) it will also be over more quickly (decay), assuming the same amount of energy is input at the beginning (strike/physical vibration source).
I.E. They would consume energy more rapidly, effectively shortening the time the energy is audible as sound.
So in order for the same source energy to be heard for an equal time at a higher pitch, the amplitude must be reduced, to spread the energy out over time.

But in practice this isn't a problem, since as I mentioned higher pitches sound louder to us, and tighter skins take less energy to vibrate (though they are easier to "overwhelm" with too much energy).

I agree with you that overtones are important for nuance and diversity.
But yes, cross cancellation will reduce volume, if they are not harmonics of the fundamentals, i.e. they are dissonant. This is sometimes referred to in guitars as "wolf tones" i.e. frequencies which "eat" or "consume" desirable tones and reduce the overall volume and body of the sound.
So while we want as much richness and body as possible (variety of resonant harmonics) we don't want dissonant overtones.

I notice some woods have more harmonic overtones than others.
-Djalla has the most harmonic overtones of all, making the tone strikes sound melodic, like a bell.
-Lenke has slightly more dissonant overtones, so the tones sound more like a voice or bark than Djalla, but more focused than Dugura or Gueni
-Gueni/Hare/Khadi has so many overtones that the tones are not well differentiated, "ringy", but gives it a fantastic slap and bright presence
-Dugura has a lot of overtones, and can sound muddy, but with skill they can sound beautiful and ethereal.
-Iroko is much softer, so it doesn't resonate as much as the other woods, better slaps and percussive sounds than tones.
Last edited by batadunbata on Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By djembefeeling
Can you really tell the degree of harmonic overtones from the type of wood? I am sceptical here. It does so much depend on the work of the bowl and the skin, it seems.

BTW, you seem to know a lot about djembe. Did you introduce yourself in the introduction section? I don't really know who you are and where you come from...
User avatar
By the kid
I too would be skeptical about different woods sounding differently or someone being able to distinguish which wood is which via the sound.

But i do see some differences some times but what your describing isn't what i've experienced sound wise. But you are able to explain sound pretty well so maybe you are right.

Like for instance, Dimba / Dugura. Ok people are these the same wood. I think so but not sure. Any ways i've a dimba drum and it sounds so dry and crisp. That doesn't fit with "Dugura has a lot of overtones, and can sound muddy,"

I think a drum can sound one way and then get a new skin put on in a different way and it sound way different than the original.

When you say Lenge sounds like this etc, I think your really saying this skin set up on this lenge drum sounds like this. And then you associate that sound with that wood.

But I know woods do sound differently say if you have 2 pieces of different wood sized the same and hit them with a stick. Even play a krin with different sticks and it sounds different. But that is wood on wood where we can say the difference is the wood effect rather than the hand on skin resonating through the wood.
User avatar
By batadunbata
(btw I modified the wood descriptions for Lenke and Gueni a little bit)
Yes Dimba = Dugura = Bush Mango = Beng = Douki/Duki

I hear what you're saying, and you're right that a different skin will sound very different.

My descriptions aren't based on a handful of drums I've played or seen in person, instead they're based on dozens of recordings online, from various sources, with different skins.
A helpful source is the drum demos from Drumskull on youtube, since it's the same room, mic, and the drums are generally the same size/shape and they use similar quality skins, and you can hear multiple players demonstrate a given wood species. So you can listen to 4 or 5 recordings of each species, and flip back and forth between them to compare. It's really helpful. I listen to other recordings as well, but that's the best source to control for other variations.

I could go into detail here, but I don't want to thread-jack, so I'll start a new post about my observations of the tonewoods. I know there's always debate about what if any affect the wood has, but it's clear to me there's a big difference between the woods. They all have pros and cons, and they're all great IMO. I would bet that I can guess the wood from a recording more often than random chance. (solo performances in indoor recording environments, not stage recordings)
Last edited by batadunbata on Wed Aug 09, 2017 6:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By batadunbata
Another thought I had about playing one Djembe:
If you sometimes play just one, and sometimes play multiple, you probably get better overall, because you also learn the subtle differences between them, which helps you get to know each of them even better.

Correction of last post: I meant Beng, not Bara for synonym of Dugura (Bara is a style of Djembe).

A challenge? OK I accept, if we can set up the experiment somehow. I'll start a new topic about it so we can figure out how to arrange it. Sounds like fun.
User avatar
By the kid
Playing a low tuned drum compared to a high drum also works the hands differently. The skin and joints and muscle is damaged in different ways playing different tuned drums. I think it helps the hands develop to go through the different issues with different skins. You have to dig into a low tuned drum and work it. I'm sure that is working the muscles in the arms and back more too. It gives you power. Your just creaming the top playing a high tuned drum all the time. Basically i think you develop versatility playing different drums, low, high cow goat whatever, bang the table, it's all good. lol
User avatar
By batadunbata
The Kid, so true about the tuning. They play very differently. Worth playing both for sure.(if you have the privelidge of playing two full size Djembes)

I just tuned my djembe up and then back down a bit, so I'm very aware of the differences:

Higher tuning: ("Medium-High") - this was the highest playable tension on this Djembe*

1.) easier to play because:
-less energy needed for loudness of sound created
-easier on the hands (less rim contact because skin is tighter)
2.) louder and crisper sound, more exciting (pops more, sharper sounds)
3.) stiffer sound, less range, less flexibility, less personality (although the brightness makes it "lively")

Lower tuning: ("Medium")
1.)more range so more expressive (generally you're directing how it sounds more - it can be muddy and dull, bark loudly, or sing, depending on subtle shifts)
2.) harder to play (takes more energy), and harder on the hands near the rim (requires careful technique)
3.) much fuller bass (less explosive and crisp, but more resonance, richness and sustain)
4.) fuller tones and slaps - richer and deeper (but requires skill - easy to miss the sweet spot)

*: This Djembe is a 12.5", made of dense wood, and I realize it can't take truly high tuning because:
-The medium diameter bowl causes the skin to flex less than on a 13"+, so high tuning would be very stiff and reduce range of sound.
-Also, it's made of a dense wood (Dimba/Dugura) so it benefits from reduced tension, to soften the sound, and impart more energy into the wood.
(Dense wood reflects sound more easily, and the higher the frequency the more easily the sound is reflected. And because high tuning creates higher frequency sounds, more of it is reflected, whereas lower tuning creates lower frequencies which are more easily absorbed by the wood before being released as sound. This filters the sound, giving it body and character.
Woods that can absorb and filter higher frequencies are less dense, like Lenke, Djalla and Iroko.)
User avatar
By the kid
batadunbata wrote:1.) (Higher tuning:) easier to play because:
-less energy needed for loudness of sound created
-easier on the hands (less rim contact because skin is tighter)
Ok maybe easier on the hands but harder on the fingers. I'd be more inclined to say a loose skin and a tight skin can both do different kind of damage to the hands if played excessively. Even a loose skin played a lot can rip up the skin on the fingers because it vibrates more. You Can damage the hand and little finger on the rim, but that occurs with a hard skin too. Hard skins do damage the tips of the fingers and between the knuckles. At least with lower tune there is some bounce but tuned high is like hitting a table.

Also There are different levels of playing.

It is easy to slap a drum but hard to slap it continually and consistently for hours no matter what the skin or tuning or size of the drum, shape of rim etc.
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