This page contains miscellaneous information regarding drum tuning and other techniques.
  Keep The Drumming Going!

A musician went on vacation to the islands. When he got off the boat, he heard the drummers playing an island rhythm. He found it fascinating. However, after several hours, the sound of the drums became an annoyance, so at dinner, he asked the waiter, "When do the drums stop?"

The waiter went pale and stammered, "No. No. Drums not stop. Very bad when drums stop."

After tossing and turning through the night, he called the front desk at 2 a.m. to ask when the drums would stop. "No. No. Drums not stop. Very bad when drums stop."

After a sleepless night, he was waiting at the front desk for the manager. He asked once again, "When do the drums stop?" Again came the reply, "No. No. Drums not stop. Very bad when drums stop."

Grabbing the manager by his shirt, the man screams, "What happens that's so stinking bad when the drums stop?"

The manager replied, "Trombone solo!"

  Bass Solo

cartoon everyone talks during a bass solo

  Band Leader to Singer

Band-leader says to vocalist, "When we do Misty tonight, I want to put an extra beat on the last bar of the first verse, then pick up the tempo on the first chorus, slow it down for the 2nd verse and drop the key a half-tone. Make the last bar 6/4, then go back to the original key and tempo for the 2nd chorus, put in a 3 bar fill..."

Vocalist says, "How am I supposed to remember all that?"

Bandleader says, "Just sing it exactly the way you did last night."
  Mounting Conga and Bongo Heads:

The mounting of bongo skins is not very difficult but they do take careful work (conga heads are essentially the same but a bit harder because of the thickness of the heads):

  1. Soak the head until very pliable
  2. Place head on drum
  3. Slip flesh hoop over top of drum and fold skin up
  4. Slip tuning ring down over the folded up skin
  5. Pull skin tight (pliers can help) to get the correct position of the tuning rim
  6. Tighten head very slightly
  7. Very, very carefully trim excess head down to the tuning rim (I place a metal spatula between the skin next to the shell and the skin next to the tuning rim to prevent cutting the head next to the shell and trim with a very sharp knife).
  8. For a detailled pictorial, see:

I have not mounted an x-ray film but I suspect that the process would be essentially the same except there would be no soaking of the head.

  Bongo & Conga Tuning Tips

I have been tuning my bongos (and congas) since 1959 using following method and and I have never had a head break whether tuned or un-tuned except when they actually wore out:

  1. Initially I start by loosening all the lugs and then hand tightening until the head is slightly above the desired position (remember that the head will stretch just a bit when dry and tightened)
  2. Then doing complete turns on each lug with a wrench until the skins get a mellow tone when struck
  3. Then check each head for even tuning by tapping each head near the tuning rod and tweaking until there is essentially the same tone all around each drum
  4. Then using complete turns, tune each drum until you get close to the sound you want
  5. Fine tune using equal partial turns all around each drum tune until you get the sounds you want; I tune essentially between a 4th and a 5th even when playing 2 or more congas/timbales/drums which provides a decent guaguancó dum-dum of the DUM-dum-dum-DUM; the 4th to 5th tuning of bongos are not so noticeable as with congas but that is still the relationship I try to achieve.
  6. When done playing , tune the smaller drum(s) down using 2 complete turns for each lug and 1 complete turn for the larger drum(s); this will release the heads enough to prevent breaking with heat/moisture changes and will allow future tunings to be done quickly by reversing step 6) and then fine tuning if necessary
  7. Check that the heads are evenly tuned every once in a while.

Additional Notes:

I do not use any oil on the heads but when necessary because of dirt/oil buildup I will clean the detuned heads with alcohol but I do tend to have slightly oily hands. I tune and clean my congas essentially the same way as I tune my bongos.

Currently I use a synthetic head on the bongo macho and I seldom tune/detune it; it has a fairly consistent tone so the fine tuning of both drums is usually done to optimize the sound of the hembra. I also try not to be in tune with other instruments especially the bass.

(2008/05/09) I attempt to tune my bongos similarly to how I tune my congas, i.e., between a 4th and a 5th apart...this is similar to the DUM-dum-dum-DUM of a guaguancó. I start by getting the best tone possible on the hembra and then tune the macho appropriately. I also attempt to tune both congas and bongos (and drums and timbales) so the tones do not match any actual tone on the piano or bass. I feel if drums are tuned to match the exact tones of the other instruments, the tones can be lost when played. By tuning the drums relative to each other but not to other instruments, melodic elements can be played.

 Bongo Martillo

The martillo is a basic pattern for bongos and it also helps develop technique.

basic martillo:


for right-handers the symbols are:

R - right hand/finger(s)
L - left hand/finger(s)
I - right index finger
M - right middle finger
t - thumb of left hand pressing down to raise pitch (note: place t on macho before the 1)
f - last 3 fingers of left hand slightly pressing down
O - open tone right finger, either I or M or sometimes M and fourth fingers
m - macho
h - hembra

BTW the following is a "martillo variation", I have used in very slow "jazz" tunes but remember it is not a martillo, it is a martillo variation:


  Increasing Speed on Bongos (applies to congas and other drums as well)

One way increase overall speed is to practice martillo (on conga the basic pattern is called the tumbao) using a metronome for at least 5 minutes (longer is better). Get the martillo down solid and strong at slow speed. Actually a strong slow martillo is harder to do well than a fast martillo. Slowly increase the speed of the metronome...again get the pattern down solid and strong...repeat... repeat...repeat!

At any time if you cannot maintain a solid and strong martillo for 5 or more minutes, slow the metronome down and begin again. Solid and strong means each 1&2&3&4& strike is heard clearly including the "&" strikes.

Although many folks seem to downplay the martillo, IMHO variations from the martillo will be easy at any speed if a solid and strong martillo can be played at any desired speed.

I also suggest that you try to develop your sounds unmiked...miking can be used later after your strength and endurance has been developed.

  Protecting Fiber Drum Cases

I use spray-on furniture wax on my fiber drum cases to prevent moisture (drinks, rain, etc.) from damaging the cases.

  Hint Regarding Comfort of Holding Bongos:

Assuming right-handed, loosen and then twist hardware on macho counter-clockwise and hembra clockwise to fit knees/legs. First, I am not a leg body builder and I have no trouble holding bongos for a 4 hour job!

You don't have to use a death grip on the bongos...relax and hold them with just enough force to keep them from moving...squeeze tighter when playing hard licks, e.g., slaps and power open tones...then relax again...if they slip, just re-adjust...five things help:

  1. Lighter weight bongos are easier to hold for long periods
  2. Find the comfortable notch between the thigh and the lower leg (what is it called?)
  3. When playing the bongo bell, you can relax just enough so that the bongos do not fall to the floor
  4. When playing the bell, you can also change your leg position, feet forward/backward slightly to help relax the muscles
  5. If possible adjust the tuning rods so that they do not dig into the muscles.
  Slaps and Semi-Slaps/Rim-Shots in the Bongo Martillo:

I do not know of any regular bongo pattern which uses slaps...slaps are used in solos...although what I call "semi-slaps"/rim-shots are frequently used as accents in martillo variations.

By "semi-slap" I mean the loud accents which are frequently played by the left middle finger/last-three-fingers (right handed players) as a rimshot.

I hold the bongos in the notchs below the knees and use my left thigh as a stop for the heel of the left hand which adds speed and power to the impact of the finger(s) near the edge of the macho.

When done properly it is louder and cleaner than slaps performed with poor technique.

IMHO this semi-slap/rimshot cannot be done effectively if the edge of the bongos are held above the thighs or if the bongos are on a stand.

  A Newbie's Introduction to Conga Drums By Benjamin F. Jacoby ( March, 2003) Rev. 7

Some decent fundamental information for conga players.

  Stan Ginn's Drum Rudiments for Congas and Bongos

A valuable post to RMAL from Stan Ginn regarding applying drum rudiments to congas and bongos (saved with his permission many years ago).

  Examples of the 3 accent pattern frequently used by the drum set in smooth jazz instead of 2 and 4 accents:

Can anyone tell me when this pattern became popular in smooth jazz?