Heard about Conga drums? If your answer is YES, then this is the right place to learn a few techniques to play them. Well here’s a small introduction to Conga Drums. Conga Drums are tall, narrow, single headed drums originally from Cuba. They typically taper at the bottom and are classified into three types : (1) Qunito (highest) – (2) Tres dos (middle) – (3) Tumba- Lowest.
They’re mostly used in Afro-Cuban genre and some forms of Latin music. Conga players are known as ‘Congueros’. Congas in general stand 75 metres tall and their shell is made of fiberglass or wood. Congas can be played while sitting and also while standing if they’re kept on a rack or a stand. Conga drums were popular throughout the United States in the early 1900s along with Latin music. The term ‘Conga’ was derived from the rhythm ‘la conga’ used during the Cuban Carnival. Also another version of it’s origin tells us that it actually was born in the Congo Region of Africa but there is very less evidence to prove this theory.
PROPER PLAYING POSITION OF THE BODY
Conga drums are generally played while being seated. As always, a professional gives huge priority on his/her posture while playing the drums. A strong framework is key for a building to stand still, and it is the same with Conga drums as well. The three drums are placed one beside the other with the tapering ends at the bottom. Form a triangle using both your palms and place them flat on the drums so that there’s 100% contact between the drums and your palms. To avoid getting injured, make sure your back is straight and doesn’t lean towards a particular side of the drums.
Just like any other physical sport, playing drums also lead to injuries. Even the highest level professional can get injured. So practice the body posture by checking yourself in the mirror regularly. Don’t hit the drums harder than needed. Mirror practice or Shadow practice is the best way to get the perfect posture for a hand drummer. Just like a marathon runner practices running several miles before running a marathon, a hand drummer requires the same amount of practice to perfect his posture to extract the right tones and be injury free. Experiment on how hard you hit the drums. If you hit them too hard, try to hit it a bit softer. Also check where the body suffers maximum tension if you’re standing. Try to relax your arms, legs and fingers before you play. Professionals generally stretch their whole body before a performance.
FINDING DIFFERENT TONES IN A CONGA DRUM
Various beautiful tones can be obtained using a Conga Drum. Few of them are shown below.
#Bass (dmm)- Hit the drums on their centers with your palm and fingers lifted above and bounce off. Place the drums on a stand so that you get the resonant bass sound.
#Tone (doh/goh) – This sound is extracted by striking the drums about one third away from it’s center using the full length of your fingers held together?. Make sure your fingers bounce off after hitting the drums.
#Muff (Ku/Tu)- This is a slightly higher pitched sound extracted the same way as the tone except that your hand must not bounce off. Instead they need to press into the skin of the drum’s surface.
#Tip (key/tea) – This sound is obtained by placing the wrist on the drum and pressing your fingers. It is usually a muted sound used to maintain a gap between two other sounds. You get a higher pitched Tip if you hit the periphery of the drums and a lower pitch if you hit the center as long as the bottom of the drums remain open.
#Open Slap (Pa/Ta)- Hold your hand relaxed in the shape of a cup and hit the rim of the drum with the base of your little finger and palm toward the outer edge. Let your fingertips snap over towards the center and bounce off creating a high pitched ringing sound.
#Closed Slap (Pah/Tah)- Everything is exactly done according to the open slap, except your finger doesn’t bounce off but stays there to get a sharp, high pitched sound.
#Muted Slap (Pa/Ta) – One of your palms is rested fully on the drum with a 100% contact and the other hand strikes an open slap or a closed slap to get a short sound.
#Palm-Tip (Wa-ka) – This sound is obtained by placing the palm of your hands on the drum and rocking it back and forth from the palm to the finger tips. Your wrist movement is crucial to get this sound. The first sound ‘Wa’ comes out when you hit the palm and the second sound ‘Ka’ is a closing sound which is produced when you hit finger tips.
#Gliss (oooh) – This sound is made by hitting the drum and sliding a finger back with a bit of pressure on the figure tip. The sound is different on a low pitched Conga Drum compared to a smooth skinned one. A bit of moisture on your fingertips always help.
Note: Although the sounds mentioned above do not sound literally like how you pronounce them in the English language, they’re the closest ways which you can use to explain by words.
USING VARIOUS PARTS OF THE HAND
As you progress playing a Conga Drum, you will learn to create different sounds and pitches using different parts of your hands. Slap using your palm at the center of the drum and tap using your finger tips at the rim. The slap is one sound which is slightly difficult to produce as you need to cup your palms and bounce off the drum surface. Also using four fingers at the rim of the Conga, you can produce a melodic sound. You can also add some beats by using your knuckles. Slapping can also involve your fingers and the heel of your hands wherein you use them in an alternative manner to produce fast beats.
Bass sounds are produced when you slap the drum with your whole palm. ‘Touch’ is another sound produced by simply touching the drum head with your fingers and you can alternate your fingers and knuckles to add to the beat, producing the touch in between. There’s no need to repeat, but PRACTICE is the most important aspect of learning. Practice is the difference between an average and an extraordinary Conguero. Practice the different techniques everyday and you shall be on cloud 9 sooner than you think. Hope you’ve received some great tips in learning how to play the Conga through this article. Happy learning!