How to Play Bongo Drums For Beginners

how to play bongo drums for beginners

Bongo drums differ from other drums in that they require fingers rather than sticks to hit their heads, making the first step in playing bongos learning hand strikes that form various patterns and rhythms.

To create an open tone strike, strike the head of a small drum with the knuckle part of your palm and allow your fingers to bounce off it for a rich sound without overtones.

Open Tone Stroke

An open tone strike involves striking the outside edge of a drum with your fingers’ inner knuckles, producing a rich sound with clear notes. To produce optimal results, keep hands relaxed and barely moving so they can produce sound without also producing overtones.

Muted tones are similar to open tones, except after striking your finger against the drum head your hand will rest lightly upon it and muffle any reverberations – leaving only light contact between fingers and drum. This technique adds variety to rhythmic composition by producing subtler notes.

The slap stroke involves curving your fingers while striking the head of a drum to produce a pinginging sound, while heel-toe movement involves rocking from heel of palm to tip of fingers back and forth, striking alternately each time. These techniques add fast beats while adding variety and excitement to bongo playing!

Adopting different tones and touches into a regular pattern takes practice, but once accomplished it becomes quite straightforward. Listening to music helps with rhythmic identification or standard notation can assist.

Once you become more adept with different stroke styles, it will become simpler to read and play rhythms from a chart. This will give you a sense of timing and feel as well as make creating steady beats much simpler. There are numerous rhythms you can play on bongos but for beginners it would be beneficial to begin with one as basic as the Martillo pattern which can be found across various genres – it consists of hitting both drums four times each; four hits are delivered onto either drum macho (smaller drum) four times and then four hits made against larger drum hembra (larger drum).

Basic Muted Tone

Bongos are hand drums with an unusually high pitch. One drum, known as the hembra, and another known as macho must be played simultaneously to achieve rhythmical playing of this pair of instruments. When performing basic beats with bongos, one must pay attention to differences between pitch between these drums for proper rhythmic production.

To produce a basic muted tone on a bongo, the first finger pad must be lightly struck to produce a soft sound. Enough pressure should be applied so as to cause head vibration but without creating an overpowering or loud and distorted tone. Some players opt to strike only their second finger; others use both on one stroke for even lighter sounds.

After striking the head, players must relax their hands to maintain contact with the drum. Hill-tip rocking allows players to add another sound by rocking from thumb base to fingertips for different tones and rhythms. This technique adds diversity in tonality as well as rhythmic complexity.

Tuning bongos regularly will help maintain an even tone, and can be done either using a pitch pipe, whistle, or tuning wrench sized specifically for them. When tightening each lug make sure not to over tighten or risk potentially damaging the drum head.

After some practice, you should be able to create a basic beat and play various tones on the bongos. Once comfortable with basic techniques, move on to more complex rhythms – try starting off with Cuban music’s Martillo pattern for instance; its steady ostinato of eighth notes provides a good starting point. Bongos add flair and style to any song, and are relatively straightforward instruments. Just be careful not to overstrike as that could damage their skin heads and shorten their lifespan!


Slapping is one of the key strokes for new bongo drum players to master and makes an extremely satisfying sound, yet improper execution could prove dangerous to hands and cause serious discomfort. Therefore, beginner drummers should pay careful attention when performing this stroke with their wrist movements required for accurate execution.

When playing bongo drum slaps, be careful only to use the very center of your palm to strike its head – using any more could result in severe bruises in your fingers! For help in performing this stroke correctly, watch videos online of professional conga players performing it or contact an instructor directly for guidance.

Slapping on a bongo drum may seem challenging at first glance, but with practice you will make significant strides forward. Begin by practicing open tone strokes until you gain an understanding of their position on the drumhead; once that has been mastered begin working on muted tone variations.

For a muted tone, use the same strike technique as for open tones but, after hitting your drum, lift your palm slightly up so as to reduce vibration created when hitting it and create a quieter and more subdued tone.

Beginning bongo players should focus on mastering an open and muted tone to develop perfect positioning and hand movement before transitioning to the more dangerous slap stroke. Slap stroke is the most dangerous of the bongo’s four strokes, so care must be taken to maintain proper wrist positioning to prevent unnecessary finger stress that could cause bruises or injuries. Over time you’ll become better at this technique, playing louder sounds – becoming a bongo drum maestro!

Heel-Toe Movement

As you learn the bongos, you can either play by ear or learn bongo notation – which is similar to standard percussion notation and an essential skill for beginners – or you can learn bongo notation by reading bongo notation. Bongo notation is similar to standard percussion notation and is essential for developing rhythms by ear. Beginners may use letters above notes to represent different strikes: for instance an S above it indicates you’re playing slap strike. Typically you can also find notes representing open tone muted tones or heel-toe movement as well.

To play an open tone, use your entire palm to strike the drum. This creates a rich and clear tone with a definite note; making this an excellent way to start rhythms since overtones won’t distract listeners and the overall sound stays simple.

Muted tones can be produced by covering the drum head with your thumb before striking it, creating a quieter drum while eliminating its overtones that may otherwise ring out from an open tone. This basic muted tone can then be utilized in various rhythms such as Martillo.

Your thumb and finger can also be used to play a rimshot on bongos, providing another great way to add variety and accent to your rhythms and can serve as an alternative to martillo drumming. Simply strike the drum with your thumb followed by striking its pad. Unlike with snare drumming however, where fingers bounce more readily when striking the drum head, this technique requires greater skill to master.

Avoid striking bongo drums with the joints of your fingers to reduce pain, as this could taint the beat and damage your hand health. Instead, strike them using only your fingertips’ pads – this will keep your hand healthy and make following along easier in a group situation. Likewise, find the pulse of any song and move your legs up and down in time with it to stay with its beat and stay in sync with it more easily.