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COBA - In the Community
Photo of COBA performers in 'Doun Doun Dance'

Djembe Lesson from COBA

Richard "Popcorn" Cumberbatch:

Hi I'm called 'Popcorn,' I'm one of the musicians from COBA, the Collective of Black Artists. I'm going to give you a brief showcase of djembe techniques, of what I've learned over the years.

To start it off, the djembe gives you three basic sounds: The first one is the "bass," where you use your full hand (bangs on drum with palms flat on the skin) - Nice and relaxed, with the thumbs out of the way.

The next one is called the "open," where you use more your fingers and bring your hand closer to the edge. You can roughly measure it by where the joints meet the palms of your hands, let those rest where the wood meets the skin (drums with fingers together, palms off the drum).

So, that's called the "tone," or some people call it "open."

The next one is called the "slap," because it's a high-pitch sound. You play it in the same theory as the "open," but the way how you manipulate, or move your fingers, will change the tone to get the "slap." (Drums with finger tips, alternating hands.)

So, we get the "slap" by spreading your fingers as wide, or as you develop the technique more, you are supposed to get your fingers in as close as possible. In other words, from slap to tone, I was told it shouldn't be too much energy being wasted here, with the moving of your fingers, right. And there's other little songs you can get if you put one hand on the skin (drums with one hand flat on the skin), which they call a "muffle," and if you use the tips of your fingers (hits drum with tips of fingers, alternating hands), close to the edge, you also get a different sound. And in between the bass, tone and slap, you can get a half song, by the way you adjust your hands and fingers.

There's one little exercise I have learned to get my bass and tone and slap sounding good, which is this one (hits the drum alternating with bass, slap, and tone techniques), and then you can reverse it (hits the drum alternating with tone, slap, and bass techniques). As you go along you can mix it up, or join all of them together (hits drum with alternating techniques to create a beat).

So, that's some of the basic techniques that have been taught here, and I guess if you go anywhere else you will get told the same thing, maybe done differently, and I always tell people you can go somewhere else, open your mind to the next teacher. I may teach you one thing, you go somewhere else, you learn something, you know it twice, twice the amount that I know. I know one thing, you know two. So always be open, and if you have ideas, always willing to share, the teacher is always willing to share, so open up to the teacher.