How To Play Bongo Drums

The beautiful melodic sounds of the bongo drums bring parties and dancing crowds to mind. Have you ever wondered how to learn this art form?  Well, it is easier than you think.  The main thing is maintaining the rhythm and sound; with a little practice, you can be a successful player.

The bongo drums are basically two drums: a small one and a larger one, which are connected together. They are usually referred to as the Bongo or the Cuban Percussions.  The larger size is called the hembre or female.  The smaller size is referred to as the male or macho in Spanish. The drums are usually made of wood, metal or a combination of other natural and synthetic materials which are then attached together. This type of music is very popular in Latin American countries, and can be played with either the hands or with drumsticks. The hand method is the traditional option.

You will play the drums by placing the instrument between your knees, with the larger drum resting on the calf while you are in a seated position.  You will strike the drumheads with your fingertips.  Depending on which fingers you use, the sound will vary slightly.  If you strike the drum in the middle you will hear a hollow sound. Hitting the instrument near the rim will give you a quick, sharp sound.

The drums strokes used are the heel tip stroke, the open tone, the slap, and the mute.  

  • The heel tip stroke entails striking with the palm of the hand on the drum, first pounding the drum head. 
  • In order to play using the open tone method, you will need to extend your fingers outward in a straight comfortable position. Strike the instrument near the rim of the percussion.  Your fingers should spring back from the drum’s head.  If you need to tweak the sound, you simple adjust the way you're holding your fingers. 
  • The slap method entails a rapid strike on the drum with an open hand as if you are smacking something.  
  • The muted tone is basically resting your hand or fingers after you struck the instrument.

One of the most popular methods of playing the bongo is using the Martello or the hammer.  It is usually played in a similar way to the slap tone, with the right hand on the large drum.  The small drum is used for softer tones. You will use the tip of your index finger, preferably on your right hand, and will use the index finger to obtain a beat. The Martello pattern has the left hand thumb drumming the small drum.  You will then move your left hand fingers while tapping the edge of the drum with the right index finger.

It is recommended by bongo players that the beginner listens to bongo music from professionals such as Tito Puente or Willie Rodriguez as this will help you become more familiar with the beats.


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