How To Play the Conga Drums

When actor/musician Desi Arnaz of "I Love Lucy" fame used to play the conga drums in his nightclub act, he no doubt inspired thousands of would-be drummers to learn how to play the conga drums.

Although conga drums trace their roots to Western Africa, these tall, narrow, single-headed drums are best associated with Cuba where they are called Tumbadoras. Many original versions were fashioned from old barrels. Conga drum students have three sizes to choose from: the large and low-pitched Tumba drum; the middle-range, mid-sized Conga drum; and the small, high-pitched Quinto drum. Today's conga drum is fashioned from either wood or fiberglass, and is positioned on a stand that allows the player to be seated while performing.

Select the small Quinto as you begin learning how to play the conga drums; this size is best suited to anyone doing a solo performance. Begin practicing to create a series of five different sounds by the way you strike the head of the drum.

The first stroke, called a slap, is produced by slightly cupping your hand while hitting the head of the drum and sounds most like a loud clear pop. A slap involves hitting the center of the drum using your fingertips rather than the palm of your hand while you rest your other hand on the head of the drum.

An open tone stroke is created by hitting the edge of the conga drum with your knuckles. A bass tone, the third type of drum stroke used in learning to play the conga drum, involves striking the drum's center using the full force of your flat open palm.  The muffled tone is created by striking the drum's head with four fingers, allowing them to linger to quiet the sound just created.

The last of the recognized conga drum strokes is the heel finger sound, accomplished by beating the head of the drum with the heel of one hand, alternating with striking the drum with your fingertips.

The sound created by a conga drum player is very tailored to the individual. As you learn to play your conga drum, your ears will certainly get a workout as you learn how to distinguish among the many unique and varied sounds that can be created using this instrument.

Prior to each practice or performance session, the conga drum must be tuned by adjusting each lug in a circular movement around the drum head, going in a clockwise fashion.  To be a successful conga player involves having a good sense of rhythm as well as mastering each of the five strokes used to create the drum's unique sounds.


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