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Djembe: Tuning Your Drum

Updated on August 15, 2014

Tuning Your Djembe

This lens teaches a traditional West African tuning method predominant in Burkina Faso, Cote D’ivore and Mali. It is one of many different methods and really, there is nothing stopping you from inventing your own.

Image Credit: Photo taken by me

Steps

Basically by pulling four of the vertical tensioning ropes across and over each other you gradually pull the skin down a little further.

(1) Undo the tuning rope which is coiled just under the middle - by threading and pulling this rope horizontally around the vertical tensioning ropes you achieve the level of tuning you desire.

(2) Start threading - always thread the next two verticals following the ones that already been tuned.

Remember This Simple Rule

i) 2 goes over 1.

ii) A close up

iii) Pull until the verticals lock into position.

Follow this sequence exactly and you shouldn’t have problem.

Pull Hard

Pull hard - wind the rope around a strong stick and pull hard. Steady the drum with your feet as you pull.

Always count the ropes to be tuned at the top of the drum as you will get confused if you count at the bottom. When you reach the second and third level of tuning you will see how important this is.

Always push the tuning rope down to the base of verticals before you pull through, otherwise the tuning pattern will jump up the drum causing an uneven and unsatisfactory pitch.

Tap the edge of the drum with a rubber or wooden mallet after each tuning sequence, being careful not to hit the tensioned skin.

(3) In time you will take your tuning rope around the drums circumference 3 times (which can take up to 5 years) but never over tighten it just for looks as you could break the skin. Just tune your drum as you need to.

(4) When you finally complete tuning your drum as far as you can go, undo the tuning rope and pull all the slack out of the vertical tensioning rope, tie it off and start tuning again. it’s simple and easy. Once you’ve completed this process you will feel closer to your drum. It’s highly recommended doing this before you reach this stage. It will enable you to fully understand the workings of the djembe and ultimately you feel more confident playing and performing with it as you know exactly what’s going on.

Important

  • Never leave your drum in direct hot sunlight for more than ten minutes.
  • Never leave uncovered in a hot stuffy car. Wind the windows down a little. Ignore these precautions and the skin may break. Likewise, always de-tune a little when travelling in hotter climate.
  • The opposite is also true. Keep away from moisture as it will go flat. Light mist or dew will make it go flat in minutes. So cover it up when not in use.
  • Keeping your drum in a bag of some description is highly recommended.
  • Finally - don’t be timid. Hit your drum with passion and spirit. Enjoy.

How often do you tune your djembe?

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    • ruth-williams lm profile image

      ruth-williams lm 5 years ago

      Great lens, best article I've seen on tuning djembes - you've made it seem much simpler!