We have a lot of first time Djembe students purchase from World Wide Drums. This article helps answer some of the most common questions asked by the beginning Djembe player.
What size drum do I need?
There are two dimensions to consider when purchasing your first Djembe; the drum head or face size and the height.
An adult who intends to play the Djembe in the sitting position will want a Djembe at least 24” tall. This will allow the drum to rest on the floor while playing. Anything smaller will require the Djembe player to hold the drum up between their knees. This can become tiring after some time playing. People in the 6 foot height range may want a drum taller than 24”. Even one more inch makes a difference.
The head size generally determines the drum’s tonal range. Generally speaking, the larger the head size, the greater the tonal range. For an adult Djembe player, the head size should be no smaller than 11”. Many people believe 12” is the minimum, however, we have heard many 11” drums heads sound better than 12” or 13”. This is because there are other factors that contribute to the overall sound of the drum. Some drums with large head size have what we call a “bongy or Twany” and less focused sound.
Drums with 6” – 8” heads are great for children under 5 years old and for back packing. Drums with 10” heads work well for 5 – 10 year old children or for people who will be carrying the drum while playing.
How much money do I need to spend to get a good sounding drum?
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a drum that sounds good, is fun to play and which will have enough of a tonal range (high to low) to learn how to play the Djembe. You can also spend a lot of money on a great sounding drum. We suggest spending according to your interest and budget. If you know you will be playing for many years, get a good drum right off the bat. If you are not sure if this is for you, don’t buy a top end instrument.
If there are no budget constraints, get a good drum. Great sounding instruments are always more fun to learn on than student level instruments.
To confuse matters more, a student quality drum in the hands of a great drummer will sound fantastic. Bottom line, stay within your budget and just have fun.
Does it matter where the Djembe is made?
We don’t think it matters where a drum is made. Some of the best instruments in the world are no longer made in their country of origin. However, there are differences that are worth mentioning that the beginning drummer should know. Drums from Africa, especially Mali, can be heavier. We like to see beginners get drums that are not so heavy. Lighter drums are just easier to handle. Drums from Indonesia and Ghana tend to be lighter.
Drums from Indonesia are generally less expensive because there is less manual labor involved in making them. This appeals to beginners because you can get a good sounding drum for less money than a drum from Africa.
If authenticity is a concern, then purchase a drum from Ghana or Mali West Africa.
Will I need to tune my Djembe and is it hard?
All drums purchased from World Wide Drums are tuned to a medium pitch before shipping. However, since the head of the drum is made from goat skin, the pitch will change with changes in humidity. We don’t think these slight changes in pitch should cause one the retune the drum. As a beginner, your drum should maintain its pitch without you needing to tune your drum. As you advance and develop an ear or preference for a particular pitch, you will want to experiment with different tunings.
It’s not hard to tune a drum but it does require some strength.
Are there differences in the type of drum head?
Djembe heads are either synthetic/plastic or natural/goat skin. Unless you are a Vegan, we recommend a goat skin Djembe head for beginners.
Goat skins are more authentic and sound more robust and are easier on the hands.
Should I get a drum with a rope or a mechanical tuning system?
Some Djembes are tuned with rope and others with mechanical systems. We recommend Djembes with rope tuning systems for beginners. Rope tuning systems are more authentic and tend to sound richer and more full bodied. Mechanical systems are easy to tune but sound thinner.
Rope tuning systems are also easier on your hands. Rope systems are usually associated with goat skin heads while mechanical systems are associated with plastic heads. Goat skins and ropes are simply softer than metal and plastic.
Are wooden Djembes better than PCV/plastic or fiberglass Djembes?
We recommend Djembes constructed of wood for beginners. A Djembe built from wood is more authentic, produces a richer more rounded or colorful sound. Djembes made of PCV/plastic or fiberglass will have a thin, tinny sound. These drums may be better suited for the community center. They tend to be more durable because they also usually have plastic heads. PCV drums can also be very light, which has its advantages in youth programs.
Bottom line, purchase from an on-line company who is willing to work with you. You should be able to return any drum no questions asked if you feel the drum is not right for you. At World Wide Drums, we are committed to your satisfaction. We realize Djembes are not available in many communities, so we work hard to make the on-line purchase risk free. Please see our customer comments for testimonials;