WHAT IS A BONGO DRUM?
The word bongo is often wrongly used to represent other kinds of drums such as djembes and congas. However, the Bongo is two separate percussion instruments that are attached to one another. The smaller of the two drums is called the hembra, which is the Spanish word for female, and the larger drum is referred to as the macho, Spanish for a man.
Although the precise origin of this type of drum cannot be correctly traced, the Atlantic slave trade introduced bongo to Cuba and other areas of the Caribbean, Middle East, and Asia from the continent of Africa. The traditional bongo drums are usually made from wood with rawhide, goatskin, or some other type of animal for the heads of the drums, which are attached to each other with a thick piece of wood.
Metal or other different kinds of other natural or synthetic materials can also be used.
Although, many electric musical instruments are very popular, traditional ones are still being played and enjoyed by thousands. Bongo drums made from ceramics with rawhide heads are most commonly found in places such as Egypt, Asia, and some Middle Eastern countries and are known there as a bill.
For the beginner as well as the expert percussionist, the bongo is an attractive choice of drums as they are not only portable but also inexpensive and easy to tune and play once you become accustomed to the different ways.
A pair of bongo drums consists of:
– Bearing edge
– Center block
– Tuning or base ring
– Lugs or hooks
BODY POSITION WHEN PLAYING
When playing a pair of bongos, the drums are typically held between the knees while squatting down with the hembra (smaller) drum on the player’s left toward the calf area, and the macho (bigger drum) against the right thigh. The trick is to hold the drums with the right amount of light pressure to just put them in place, but not too tightly. In the case of ensembles or orchestras, bongo drums are commonly played using a stand instead of holding them.
The palms and fingertips are usually used to strike the instrument’s drum heads, but some of the more modern pieces also call for the use sticks or brushes to produce a variety of different sounds. The hembra will provide a massive sounding thud, which is indicated when the player allows their fingertips to rest on the head momentarily after striking. Using three fingers at first, practice hitting the heads until you can gauge the right amount of pressure, remembering to use the pads of the fingertips as exposed to the knuckle joints that are higher up on the thumbs.
A snapping movement of the wrist will create crisp tones that can also be muted using a part of the hand atop one of the drum heads to get a variety of sounds. For a higher pitch sound while striking the heads, use the top of the thumb or finger to press tightly down onto the middle of the drum-head.
The most common pattern played using Bongo is known as the Amarillo trend, which is played in 4/4 time and resembles the sound of a trotting horse, although many variations are used as the more experienced player may improvise and add their beats and rhythms.
Most bongo ceroes, or bongo players, have their personal preferences when it comes to tuning their drums. As a standard rule of thumb, the macho should be tuned first, and tuned rather high until lightly tapping the head results in crisp, clean tones. The hembra does not need nearly as much stress as the other and should accurately be tuned until its sound supplements the ma-cho.
Depending on the element used for the head, when tuning the larger drum, some typical cracking or popping noises may be produced by it repeating itself under the rims. As is the case with all types of drums, if the heads aren’t evenly tensioned, a ringing sound will result which can be improved by securing each plug or fastener is tightened suitably.
Some drums will also need damping, also known as muffling, using single adhesive tape and a few pieces of foam weather-stripping attached to the bottom of the drum’s heads in one or more spots.
Playing the bongo drums is very easy, and you can achieve different sounds depending on the force you use. You should play them by striking the skin with your palm and fingers to create the most fantastic music. Some musicians like to use drum sticks with the bongo drums, and this produces an entirely different sound. Some pieces of music require both styles, and you will love the diversity of the music you can play. When learning to play them correctly will take time and if you practice often then you will enjoy learning new pieces of music.
Before rushing out and purchasing your bongo drums, you should research the different ones available to you. Although you may be inclined to buy large bongo drums, you should think about how you are aiming to transport them, store them and hold them. Smaller bongo drums are better suited to the novice drum player so that you can get a feel for the drums before moving onto larger ones. You should also consider your budget as some of the drums can be expensive to purchase and until you know if you enjoy the drums you do not want to spend vast amounts of money. Buying a smaller set will allow you to keep practicing and see if you like this unusual instrument.
Now if you are ready to become a bongo cero, go and get your first set of bongo drums!