Djembé (meer informatie in het Engelstalige deel hieronder)
maintaining a djembé (Dutch section first)
Tips om goed met een
djembé om te gaan !
- Zet de djembé in een leefruimte met een minimum aan
wisseling in temperatuur en luchtvochtigheid. Indien u de djembé op een
warme vochtige zomerdag aanspant om hem toch goed te laten klinken
dient u hem na gebruik direct weer wat te ontspannen. Wanneer het
droger weer wordt zal het vel krimpen en bij een te hoge spanning
kunnen scheuren. Bij zeer vochtig zomerweer kunt u het vel beter
aanspannen door het vel te verwarmen met een kacheltje, föhn of
houtvuurtje (zoals in Afrika tijdens de regentijd wel gebeurt). U kunt
ook een lamp in de djembé leggen.
kenmerk van een goed aangespannen djembé is dat er meer verschillende
klanken uit te halen zijn. Dit heeft echter ook erg veel met
speeltechniek te maken. Bij een goede techniek klinken slaps
duidelijk anders dan gesloten tonen. Spant u de djembé erg strak aan
dan is hij mooi te bespelen maar u hebt dan wel veel kans dat u de
djembé de volgende keer terugvindt met een rondom gescheurd vel !
Wanneer u de djembé door een professional laat spannen neemt u het
geluid (de toon) op met een cassettebandje. Later thuis, spant u zelf
de djembé elke keer tot die toon bij. Houdt er dan rekening mee dat u
elk jaar toch wel minimaal een ander vel zult moeten (laten) monteren.
Zelf ontspan ik de djembé na elke keer spelen een paar tandjes maar
indien hij niet te strak gespannen wordt is dit niet nodig. Een schets
van hoe het koord geweven dient te worden tijdens het spannen gaat
- Bespeel de djembé niet met handen of armen voorzien van
ringen, polshorloge of een armband.
- Laat de djembé nooit omvallen (menig vel is daardoor gescheurd. Ook kan het
- Zet de djembé niet voor het raam (teveel zon). Dek het vel
in een dergelijk geval af met een witte doek. Een erg droog vel
behandelt u eventueel met wat glycerine.
- Hebt u een feestje: Zet hem weg!!
- Gebruik een stevige zak voor het vervoer. Bescherm in ieder
geval het vel zeer goed !
- Mocht het vel kapot gaan dan kan een vel door een
deskundige vervangen worden. Over het algemeen worden daar redelijke
bedragen voor gerekend. Wil je het zelf doen dan kan dat ook. Ga dan
naar de service pagina
en bekijk de unieke zeer uitgebreide handleidingen daar.
- Hieronder vindt je in het engels nog veel meer informatie
over de djembé.
- Veel plezier met het meest fascinerende en meest
veelzijdige percussieinstrument: De Djembé .
Gerard P.J.P. van Dijk 2021.
and maintaining a djembé
1. How to judge the most
versatile drum on earth
course the sound of a djembéé is the most important aspect of the
quality of a djembé ! The sound depends on the shape of the interior of
the drum, wood type of the body, diameter and skintype, correct (high
!) tension of the goat skin and the ability of the player (the
djembéfola) to create various sounds and different rhythms ! No
handcrafted drum sounds like another ! That is why a group of players
can make such fantastic sounding polyrythms, because every drum even if
tuned at the same pitch sounds different. The music made by a group of
players can be made even richer by adding a doun-doun, sambang and
kenkeni together with other high pitched instruments like bells
(kenken), shakers and so on.
- The fact that no djembé is stored in a shop tuned at
playing pitch makes judging the drum purely on the sound difficult. If
you have to buy your drum in a shop maybe you simply should accept the
fact that it will sound different from others. If you buy it from an
experienced player you might expect to be able to judge (and buy) the
djembé tuned at the right pitch. Record that pitch on a cassette so
that you can tune the instrument to the right pitch later by yourselves
- The right pitch is a high pitch. Masterdrummers get the
most out of it because they tune the skin untill about breaking tension
! Smaller djembés are easier to maintain. The skin will not wear out so
soon because it does not require so much tension to be tuned up. Myself
I tune down my larger djembé three to four knots after having given a
concert. I found my djembé back a few times in the morning after with
the skin torn. Replacing the skin takes some three to four hours
of real hard work.
- Some characteristics may influence the durability of the
drum, ease of tuning, stability after tuning, ease of maintenance and
so on. Of course the drum has to look nice too ! A number of these
characteristics can be manipulated and controlled. Some importers
select producers that produce djembés of high quality out of selected
materials and in a manner that responds to the highest reasonable
demands. In this way they can assure you an excellent djembé that is
easy to tune and will stay tuned for a long period of time ! Only very
high quality cords should be used. At least polyester cord should have
been used because it stretches only within reasonable limits when
tensioning the skin. Often polyamid (=nylon) or even polypropylene is
used. When tuning the djembé untill the normal pitch these cords tend
to stretch. Master class djembé can even be fitted with cord of
absolutely stretch-free super-strong twined fibers (like Aramide,
Kevlar, Dyneema, Twaron, Vectran) protected with a polyester jacket. It
gives this cord the strength of a steel cable with the comfort of a
soft cord !
Tuning a djembé
a djembé is done by increasing the tension on the vertical cords, so
the cords that connect the cords knotted on the metal rings (see the
drawing). The tension is increased by pulling the vertical cords apart
and together the way it is done already (to a limited extend) when you
receive the drum. Slowly undo the cord a few knots to see how the
tensioning cord is woven through the vertical cords. Then start
yourself tensioning the drum and tuning it up. The higher the tone the
higher the tension of the cords. So the force needed to pull the cord
will go up too ! When the drum comes to its correct tension your hands
will hurt ! Normally you will use a stick to wrap a piece of cord
around for more comfortable pulling. If you are an unexperienced player
but have a strong back and arms avoid tearing the thin and sensitive
goat-skin by having the tuning done by an experienced player. To
prevent forcing his back, a djembéfola in Africa does not make his
djembé himself. This is done by another person ! A good check that your
drum is tuned correctly is that a closed slap sounds clearly different
from an open slap. Making these different sounds (even on a well tuned
drum) asks some experience so our advise: See an experienced player to
help you tune your drum the first time. Of course a larger diameter
drum cannot be tuned up as high as a smaller diameter drum. The tension
on the skin is not determined by the tone it produces. The real tension
can be heard if you slip a dry finger over the skin. Compare that sound
with other djembés and you will know if you can still tune up your
- After having bought an un(=low)tuned djembé or after having
reskinned the instrument some additional tuning is necessary in the
days and weeks that follow. Later one knot per year is more normal.
Insects eating your djembé
you are unlucky insects start eating your djembé or the hair still left
on the skin. You will find powder around the djembé after some days !
- For the wood, treat the instrument with a special
insecticide for wood treatment. Apply with a brush and wrap it in
aluminium foil and a plastic bag for a week or so. Another more modern
and more ecological approach is suffocating the insects. They breathe
oxygen so you will kill them by putting them in an environment without
oxygen. For instance a bag filled with CO2 gas (a welder may help you
with this). Also heating (untill about 100 degrees Celsius so do not
roast) the djembé will kill the beasts ! Of course you can bring your
instrument to a specialist. Since a djembé is small compared to your
mothers' fancy Louis XV armchair the treatment is cheap. The heat
treatment requires some untensioning of the skin.
- Insects in the hair of the skin can be killed with an
insecticide available in animal shops. Select one that kills creeping
insects and so on.
- Fungii can be killed by severely drying the instrument or,
if this is difficult in your climate, treating the instrument and skin
with a fungicide.
changes in humidity after having tuned up the drum. Humidity will
soften the skin in a few hours and make it vibrate slower. The tone
will go down. If you tune it up to correct this, the skin may tear when
air gets dryer in the hours or days that follow ! Of course a goat-skin
can be replaced by another !
- If you are an incidental player or live in an extremely
humid house (poor you) or climate simply tune up the drum untill a
reasonable sound the way described above. Then, each time you want to
play, you place your drum with the goat skin faced to a heating source.
You may use an electric ventilator stove or a hair dryer. The Arabs put
a lamp in the inside of their drums to dry and tune a skin. Lighting a
wood fire is somewhat troublesome (and risky) but it is the way it is
done in the rainy seasons in some parts of Africa. All these ways will
result in tensioning a skin temporarily to a playable tone. Do not
exaggerate this either !
Protecting your djembé
not wear rings, bracelets or a wrist-watch when playing.
- Transport the djembé in a bag that protects the entire
instrument but specially the sensitive goat-skin.
- Do not place it as an ornament in your living room when you have a party.
Wet glaces will be put on top, or enthousiast will try to play it with sticks
when selecting a djembe
mentioned aspects will help you to judge and select a djembé that fit
demands. The text handles the demands of normal players (normal
djembés) and of
experienced players (masterclass djembés).
The wooden body
wooden body, specially the upper part should be correctly round. The
top upper rim should be reasonably flat so that the goat skin will be
- The top outside rim of the wooden body must be well rounded
and have a regular shape all around the rim of the wooden body. You
cannot judge it when the skin is mounted but the rim should be sanded
to prevent that the goat skin will be subject to a lot of friction when
the goat skin is tensioned.
- I would not be lucky with holes in the body larger than 1
cm. Holes should be plugged in any case. Repaired holes do not
influence the sound of the drum.
- Cracks in the upper part can never be accepted.
- Cracks in the lower part can only be accepted when they are
not through and through (see drawing). Cracks should be filled and well
- After finishing the body it should be clean and treated
with some kind of wax or oil. Brown shoe wax is perfect for maintenance
- The air passage inside should be sufficiently large to get
good bass tones. For a normal sized djembé this would mean a minimum
hole diameter of 10 cm. Smaller djembés can do with something less for
instance 7 cm.; larger djembés need a larger air passage.
- An ordinary djembé may be made carved out of soft wood. The only
disadvantage is that a soft wood djembé will be eaten by white ants when left
standing on sand (in a wet hot climate only)
- Masterclass djembés should be carved of (more reddish)
- Do not buy a djembé with living insects inside !
- Some people think that heavy djembés give better sound. I
don't, and my back even less !
- Djembés with nice carvings do not give a better sound; they
simply look nicer.
- The inside of the body should be free from dangerous wood chips. The smoother the inside, the better various tones will be
conducted through the pipe of the djembé.
The steel rings:
metal rings should have a diameter of minimum 5 mm and have a good
- Shape of the ring must be regular.
- Visibly rusty rings are not appreciated.
- Preferably, rings are wrapped with tissue to diminuish
friction with the goat skin.
- Rings that are visibly in contact with the wooden body are
maybe to small to allow the drum to be tensioned correctly during the
entire life time of the goat skin.
The cords on the rings
polyamide (so called Nylon) and polyester are allowed only on the metal
rings of normal class djembé.
- Thickness of the cord mounted on the rings is minimum 5 to
- Masterclass djembés: Only Polyester cord 4, 5 or 6 mm is
allowed on the rings of Master class djembés. Of course reinforced
polyester (containing super-strong fibers in the core) is allowed too.
4 mm is sufficient then.
- White cord should not be coloured with ashes or dyes that
leave stains on clothes and so on !
- For a normal sized ("adult") djembé the number of knots on
the rings should not be less than 21 for a smaller sized one and not be
more than 29 knots for a larger sized djembé. Less than 21 knots will
result in extremely high pulling forces necessary to tune the djembé to
the right pitch. More than 29 knots is no real problem. It costs more
cord and more work when replacing skin or cord ! People with less than
superstrong arms will prefer relatively more knots. I have some
beautifull professional djembés now having 36 knots and they are really
easy to tune.
- The cord on the ring should be fixed the way it is drawn in
- The ends of the cords must be melted to prevent any loose
- The cord must be undamaged (e.g. due to falling of the
The vertical cords
vertical cords that connect the two rings (for tensioning the goat
- I would not accept Polypropylene and polyamide (so called
Nylon) cords. There is to much stretching and to much work and
irritation to get the djembé in a playable state.
- The cord used must be out of one piece (no knots allowed).
- A normal class djembé must be fitted with cords made of
polyester with a diameter of 5 to 6 mm.
- A Master class djembé should be fitted with a cord of
reinforced polyester. This means a polyester jacket with a core of
parallel twined super strong fibers (named Kevlar, Dyneema, Twaron,
Aramide, Vectran). This cord is souple like normal cord but strong as a
steel cable. There is no stretching at all ! It is unlikely that this
quality cord is currently available in Africa. Quite some djembés are
mounted by experienced players in the west and I know quite a few that
use reinforced cords now. End 1997 I introduced these specifications to
a large importer of djembés so maybe you will see real African made
djembés with super strong cords soon in the various music shops in
- A cord of polyester with a heart of twined super strong
fibers must have a minimum thickness of 4 mm.
- White cord should not be coloured with ashes or other dyes
that leave stains on clothes and so on !
- A black or dark coloured cord is preferred above white
because it does not look dirty after some time.
The goat skin
from any holes on the playing surface. Small round pin holes do not
affect the durability of the skin however.
- Free from any hair on the playing surface.
- Free from heavy scratches due to rough treatment during
cleaning or of the skin from hair or due to rough transport.
- Skins completely free from hair (chemically treated) are
The tension of the
"new" djembé should be tuned to a playable pitch when a maximum of two
to two and a have circles are woven through the vertical cords. The
less there has been woven the more effort has been done to tighten the
- An unskilled player should not buy an instrument if the
cord has not been woven at least have a circle. You then have an example how to
tension it further if needed.
- There should be about 3 - 4 m of cord left for further
weaving during the life of the goat skin.
How to recognize the
different plastics of cords
(more popular called nylon): When heated with a flame it
gets brown. It is soluble in formic acid.
: When heated with a flame it becomes vitreous (transparant like glass).
: Heated with a flame it gets black. Polyester cord is
almost twice as expensive as polyamid or polypropylene. It stretches a
lot less than polyamid and polypropylene. Polyester hardly accepts any
dyes (colour). So leave the colour of the cord the way it is !
- Super strong
are very rare and expensive high-tech products. The super
strong fibers are always only in the core (heart) of the cord. The
fibers are twined slightly (not-woven) to give a minimum in stretch.
The jacket surrounding the core must be made from polyester. Nylon or
polypropylene are unacceptable.
- Super strong fibers have
names like: Kevlar (Dupont Co.), Dyneema (DSM Co.), Vectran (Bayer ?),
Aramide (AKZO-Nobel). There is no general way to recognize them.
Aramide is yellow-brown in colour and will only burn with very high
temperature. Dyneema however, acts in a flame like cheap polyethylene !
The best way to recognize them is to (try) to cut them ! Most
super-strong fibers are very difficult to cut. You will need an
extremely sharp knife ! Super-strong fibers are e.g. used for
- There is another simple way to recognize them: Unroll some
5 meters and fix one end to something stable. Pull with full force and
you will feel that there is no stretching at all (like a steel cable).
Compare the stretch with polypropylene, polyamid or even pure polyester
and you will notice the big difference ! The price of reinforced
polyester is about double the price of pure polyester. The reinforced
cords are again something like twice the price of polyester. I noticed
that there are big differences in price.
- Do not wet a reinforced cord before use. The polyester
jacket on the outside gives more crimp then the twined fibers in the
inside giving problems during later use of the cord.
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Copyright: Gerard P.J.P. van Dijk 2021