Do you get energised and inspired by the infectious rhythms of traditional West African djembe music?
Have you been thinking it’s time to stop being the spectator and start getting in on the action and take part in the djembe music making?
There are so many amazing African drums and percussion instruments that you can play at home with your mates or teach in your classroom.
The djembe is one of the most popular West African drums that’s being played around the world and used for bringing teams of people together, whether it be in the classroom, community or the office.
Want to know more about West African drumming and the instruments that support the djembe drum?
In traditional West African music there are bass drums, which are called dun duns, that support the djembe.
What are dun duns?
The dun dun drums consist of 3 different sized cylinder drums, traditionally carved in one piece from a tree trunk and most commonly use cow skins on top and bottom of the drum.
The biggest drum (deepest in pitch) is called dundunba, medium drum – sangban and the smallest drum out of the three – kenkeni. Together they produce a beautiful, big, full and round sound.
Traditionally one person plays one drum each which is placed on a stand horizontally or carried by way of a shoulder strap. A bell is attached to the drum and played with the left hand using a metallic rod (you can also use a stick) while the right hand strikes the drum with a stick (a left handed person would reverse this).
Another way you can play dun duns is the ballet style, where the drums are place on the ground standing with the drum facing up and a single musician plays all three drums. As a player with a drumkit background I find this method easier from a technique and energy point of view.
Sesse’s (rattles) are commonly placed on the djembes and dun duns to create a metallic sound when the drum is struck which adds lift to the note.
The dun dun rhythms are the foundation of the ensemble and play a huge role in supporting all players, with opportunities to create musical dialogues between djembe soloists.
Kuku Video with Djembe and Dunduns
The following video of Kuku was taken where I studied African drumming in West Africa. Check out the awesome solos that Adamane Keita from Burkina Faso playing on djembe. Accompanied by fellow teachers – from right to left dundun, sangban and kenkeni.
How to hold the sticks
Let’s look at ballet style dun dun stick technique. There are companies that make dun dun sticks, although you can also use a drum stick that drumkit players use. Go for the bigger size, if you are a teen or adult, such as a pair of 2B Vater or Vic Firth sticks. Which are commonly used and easily acquired from your local music store.
Use smaller sticks for children as it makes it easier for them to hold onto them.
Matched grip technique
- hold stick between thumb and first finger
- keep stick in first knuckle and leave a gap between thumb and first finger
- wrap the rest of your fingers around the stick, don’t grip too hard
- keep back of hand facing up and relaxed
- strike the middle of the drum for the deepest sound
- allow the stick to rebound off the drum head
- play with the butt end of stick to produce a fatter sound
We offer a range of fun community drumming events in Melbourne to suit all levels of musical expertise, from beginning-beginners to advanced. Check out our details here.
More Djembe Drumming Lessons
Here are Part II from learn how to play djembe series, that help you create and develop great djembe technique.
Learn How To Play Djembe Part II: Mastering the Drum Sounds
We’re here to help you
We’re here to help and support you through your journey to becoming the player you want to be. Let us know how best to support you, whether it’s adding videos or more written information. Give us your feedback on Positive Music’s Facebook page, we’d love to hear from you.
Please share and like our post by using the social media button at the bottom, to help support our drumming community.