Bongo drums are probably the most popular hand drums among both professional and amateur musicians. Historically, bongos were used for playing salsa and other Cuban music, but now they are used in any music style.
Design of Bongo Drums
Bongos consist of two drums stacked together. Each drum is 5 and 7 inches in diameter coated with high-quality leather. The coating is usually secured with metal nails, which makes them related to the North African Congo family of drums. Another important feature is that these hand drums are distinguished by gender. The larger drum is female, and the smaller one is male.
The peculiarity of the sound is the fact that the female drum has a lower pitch than the male one. Used in various styles of music, in particular bachata, salsa, and bossa nova, subsequently, the popularity of bongos has extended to other styles including reggae, lambada, and many others. High and readable tone, rhythmic and accelerated drawing are the distinctive features of this percussion instrument.
How to Play Bongo Drums
The first thing you have to do is to find the right bongos. For beginners, it is advised to choose models of a smaller diameter because they are suitable for practicing the technique and are easier to handle. The next step is to get a chair without armrests so that your movements won’t be limited. A soft chair or armchair will not work, as you must sit upright and not fall through. Look for a chair where you can keep your legs at right angles to the floor without straining or disturbing your posture.
Sit on the edge of a chair and make sure your legs are straight (at an angle of ninety degrees). Place the bongo drums on your lap. If you are right-handed, place the small drum on the left and the large drum on the right. Remember that bongo is not an academic instrument; it does not obey canons and traditions. Therefore, all recommendations are just tips and hacks for you, and each musician holds and plays the bongos the way it suits them best. Some put the tool between their knees; others use a special stand.
Learning the Process
By playing the bongo drums, you create a rhythmic pattern. To find the rhythm for a song, you have to feel it, find the "pulse" of the song. When you listen to music, you tap your foot to the beat, swing or clap your hand, and that’s how you find this pulse. Use it as the basis on which you will build your rhythm.
When you catch a pulse, beat it on a drum to the near edge. This movement is called "tone", which is the main backbone of the music. Do not apply force to the beat, your hand should bounce back after the hit, and if you exert it, this will not happen, and the sound will come out dirty. For "tone", it is recommended to use 2/3 of the tops of the fingers. Add your right hand. You can play eighth, sixteenth notes, and you can insert accents wherever you feel like it. Be creative!
Play Without Taking Drum Lessons
Try to experiment and hit in the center of the membrane, move to the edge, knock on the rims. You will notice that the sound is denser and deeper in the center, and it becomes more sonorous and focused along the edges. There is also a good hack to use in your sessions. You can play using your palms, fingers, and thumbs; the main thing is to feel the sound and harmonize it.
If you’re a newbie to drumming or a pro, who wants to diversify their skills, playing bongos will probably be your best decision. It’s a musical instrument that allows you to improvise and play it the way you feel and want to.