Discuss drumming technique here
By djembeweaver
I'm always on the hunt for good analogies for what it feels like to play a proper tone or slap. I used to tell people to bounce a basket ball then apply that action to the djembe (the action is in the wrist and fingers), but then I stumbled across this super simple exercise about a year ago. It worked like magic for me and everyone I've shown it to so far, so I thought I'd share it here too.


Let me know if it works for you too.

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By michi
I like this a lot, thanks for that!

I tell people that I could play a tone and slap and tell which is which even if I were totally deaf, just by the tactile sensation in my hands. With a slap, I feel the impact on my fingertips. With a tone, I feel the impact around the middle joints of my fingers.

We are starting a new set of classes this Saturday. Jon, your explanation will figure largely in class on Saturday morning! :-)

We are starting a new set of classes this Saturday. Jon, your explanation will figure largely in class on Saturday morning!
Great...let me know how it goes...I really have found that it works like magic and completely disambiguates the correct movement for a tone. I'm always on the lookout for little tricks like these.
I tell people that I could play a tone and slap and tell which is which even if I were totally deaf, just by the tactile sensation in my hands
Me too. Actually this is literally true when in a workshop or when playing next to a powerful djembe fola - you can't hear yourself so you have to go on feeling. In workshops I used to try to play louder than the person next to me so I could hear myself, but now I tend to back off and rely on the feeling. When I get a really nice tone it almost feels as if my fingers are cushioned by air compression (this might actually be the case for all I know)

By jimdandy
A wonderful simplifier ... I've been banging the top of my palm on the rim, which was an improvement over whatever I was doing before. But this gives better sound and takes much less energy.


A wonderful simplifier
Great to hear it worked for you :D
But this gives better sound and takes much less energy
Or, more to the point, it delivers the energy directly to where it needs to be (the skin). You will find you get twice the volume (at least) for half the effort because you are making the skin vibrate with the correct mode.

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By Marshall
Okay I love it. This helped me finally get a good tone sound for the first time. I have one question:

are the knuckles inside the bearing edge, outside, or right on top?

From what I see in the video it looks like your knuckles are outside the bearing edge, and that's how I played it. It sounded great... But I see other people insisting that the knuckles should be inside the bearing edge. What's the deal?

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By michi
Mamady insists on the knuckles being at least on top of the bearing edge, preferably inside. He will absolutely not tolerate having your knuckles outside the bearing edge.

Personally, I started out with the knuckles outside the bearing edge. It worked better for me. In particular, I found I could produce better slaps that way. Somehow, the slaps were what I was aiming for all the time, because they sounded so spectacular. Never mind that I completely failed to notice that my tones were sounding awful. Who cares about tones, anyway?

As I got better, and after I met Mamady, I changed my technique. It cost me some blisters, the loss of some old calluses, and the need to grow some new ones. But, as far as I am concerned, Mamady is right. You are going to get better tones and slaps with your knuckles further in, you'll get more volume with less effort, and you'll do less damage to your hands.

In my opinion Jons technique is no good. To hit the membrane directly does result in some kind of muffling the tone. I'd rather use the rim to direct the energy and let the fingers flap naturally from above . They bounce back much faster than with any direct approach, and that is crucial in good djembe technique. Bear in mind that the skin is a membrane that swings really fast. Direct the energy to the rim, let the stiff fingers bounce , but not deliberately (you can hardly prevent the bounce, you don't need to urge any of it!). The tones will be better.

Once you get used to it, you will see that almost any good djembeplayer with great sounds doesn't approach the djembe with his fingers head on, that they use the rim to have the fingers snap, even though it is hard to see at first. Appraching anything head on is big in our culture, in Africa you appraoch anything rather indirectly!
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By korman
djembefeeling wrote:
Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:40 pm
In my opinion Jons technique is no good. To hit the membrane directly does result in some kind of muffling the tone. I'd rather use the rim to direct the energy and let the fingers flap naturally from above .
Hmm, so when we’ll see a likewise video tutorial on the djembe tones from djembefeeling? ;)
Never ever. It's hard enough to explain that in a live session to people. I constantly give workshops on djembe technique, and it is amazing how hard it is for people not to hit the djembe with their fingers first. That also got me a lot into thinking about cultural differences. Sometimes I show people over a a complete two hour workshop how to do it and they still do it their way. But with talented beginners, I am surprised sometimes how good the tones sound within ten minutes.

Teaching is peculiar. You do show something to individuals, and everyone needs different advice. Usually, you cannot process more than one advice at a time. For some it is more important to learn first that the crucial joint for djembe drumming is the elbow, not the wrist or the shoulder. For others, that you move directly from up to down without all kinds of strange detours. Some are too rigid, some do hardly have any body tension at all; some people play with not much more than the tipps of their fingers, while others put their whole hand into the djembe for every sound as if it is all about that bass, no treble.

Generally, only few students even care about sounds. In our culture, drumming is more about percussion than melody. So for all these people, Jons simple but effective sound exercise is fine. I know some decent djembe players coming from the drum kit who have very nice timing, you can even tell slaps from tones, but they still sound percussive, their djembes don't "speak". The African drummers I know still say they don't "understand" them, they cannot get what they say. To get the specific resonance from a djembe skin, the membrane needs to vibrate in the best possible way, without the fingers stoping the waves. Drumming is speaking a language. The African drummers all speak their own dialect with notable differences, as Jaan-Sebastian once pointed out in a very nice post here. The tones and slaps usually have a meaning in a pattern, and especially the tones are so important, while most of the people here strive for the best slaps...

...an endless topic, an endless practice.
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By boromir76
There are probably no realy simple and good analogys for understanding tone technique in my opinion. However one thing that could help when learning is to explain how it actually works, but that depends also on what kind of technique we are using and learning.

When I tried to improve my tone technique this quite old YT video became an eye opener for me. I was focusing to much pressure and power on my uper finger joints when playing tones. The guy in video sugests along with some good argumentation that one should actually focus power and striking force on first finger knuckles. It sounds little strange but it actually worked perfectly for me. When I tried it, I realised that i strike the skin with much more force but with the same efford an also, it enables much easyier bounce of fingers as they become some kind of whip- similar to slap, but with whole finger surface.

The catch or idea with this principle is not "play tones like you would try to touch hot kitchen plate". Instead, it uses physics principles of pendulum (lever, centripedal force, accelaration) and is very similar as slap technique. Only difference is that here, the first joints do the same job as palms do when playing slap. They serve as lever accelaration point for the rest of the fingers.

As I already mentined slaps...One positive side effect of mastering this technique was, that after some time using it, I realized that hand movement and tactile sensation became very similar as when playing slap, altogether making it much easyier to play and better sounding in the end.

From observing on how Mamady plays tones (video below), and his hand mowement and hand position, I would not dare to bet that he is not using this very same principle, but different hand positioning. He's hand touches skin first at the palm, not knuckles, but only when it does, the fingers follow and strike the drum. There is no direct hit with only fingers. Note also that he's hand movement when playing slaps and tones is almost the same.

Great post, Boromir! I couldn't agree more...

The advice of the guy in the first video is good as far it concerns using the first knuckles of the fingers for the tone. That is something that I tell my students at some stage of their development, too. Otherwise, I think his hand needs to move at least one centimeter more "inside" the djembe, i.e. towards the center. Michi posted some paper from an English physicist once where that guy scrutinized the physics of djembe playing. For a good tone, he argued, you need much of your hand on the djembe. I also say it is important to hold the fingers parallel to the skin, not in an angle like you do with the slap. What is no good with this guys technique is his wrist work in the tone. The wrist is not for handdrummers, but for stickdrummers. That is marvelously well explained by louis cesar ewande:
And of course one cannot complain about Mamadys advice. There you can see that he is pointing at the bearing edge to have contact with his hand on the drum and directs the energy of the impact to the accelerated fingers.

Compare that to the tons of shitty advice on the net:
that is not a micro time, that is macro time. Be aware that roughly over a hundred waves roll through the membrane within a second. How long your fingers stay on it is very crucial, then. This guy plays muffled tones, and his slap technique is prone to hurt his fingers in the long run. also, notice how awkward the movement looks when he moves his hands changing from tone to slap. When I watch the African masters, I cannot tell if they play from the movement nor the position of the hands. you simply cannot see that. but you can hear it way better.
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By boromir76
I am familiar with LCE's video and his slap hand movement aproach. His tips on wrist and hand movement are pure gold and can be summed up in one sentence: "less is more". :-)
Yes, the guy in my thread has somehow loose wrists, but not to the extent that would be catastrophic. And it basically does not change anything about finger landing principle.