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Bongo Basics

Technique, Rhythms, Music, Musicians, Online Bongo News, Books & History

http://www.lpmusic.com/Play_Like_A_Pro/Tech_Support/bongobasic.html

By Trevor Salloum

Interest in hand drumming has exploded, with everyone from inner city youth, to the elderly-even corporate executives-trying their hands on the skins. One of the most enjoyable of these hand drums to re-emerge is the bongos. Among the most adaptable percussion instruments, bongos are well suited to many styles of modern music, including Latin, rock, funk, rap, jazz, symphonic, flamenco, etc.

Bongos have many advantages, one in particular being their small size. As a drumset player, I've often envied vocalists and horn players because of the portability of their instruments. Now drummers can take their bongos to a jam session and not have to schlep so much gear. And modern amplification allows the bongos to be played with virtually any other instrument. Also, bongos require minimal maintenance and are quite durable in construction.

Playing Position
The bongos are traditionally played with the hands and fingers, in a seated position with the drums held between your knees. Your back should be straight, with your forearms resting on your thighs and with your feet positioned flat on the floor. Occasionally, the bongos may be played on a stand to provide easier movement between various percussion instruments. (Timbale sticks may be used instead of hands to obtain a varied tone and greater volume.)

Basic Patterns
The basic traditional bongo pattern is called the martillo (meaning "hammer" in Spanish). This rhythm has been used in various styles of music including Latin, jazz, rock, and folk. The following is the basic martillo pattern, as well as two basic jazz and rock patterns.

Legend for Rhythm Charts
r - right
l - left
cs - closed slap (left thumb is placed against head while right strikes with finger(s)
f - finger(s)
th - thumb
rs - rim shot with finger(s)
o - open stroke
* - rest
macho-small drum
hembra-large drum 

Matillo                                                     

Hea

1

+

2

+

3

+

4

+

Macho (Sm,       Macho (                     (Sm) Macho                  

cs

f

 o

th

cs

f

 

th

Hembra (          Hembra (                     (Lg)

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

 

R

L

R

L

R

L

R

L

 

Jazz                       

Hea               Head

1

+

2

+

3

+

4

+

Macho (Sm,   Macho (              s         (Sm)

th

f

cs

 

 

rs

 

 

Hembra          Hembra (                     (Lg)

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

 

L

L

R

 

 

R

R

L

 

 Rock

Head

1

e

+

a

2

e

+

a

3

e

+

a

4

e

+

a

Macho (Sm, male)

 

 

th

 

cs

 

 

o

 

o

 

th

cs

 

 

o

Hembra (Lg, female)

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

R

 

L

 

R

 

 

L

R

L

R

L

R

 

 

L

Listen
The most valuable resource for learning the bongos is listening to the recordings of the great bongoseros (bongo players). I would suggest starting with the early recordings of the son musical style. Son is best represented by groups such as Sexteto Habanero, Septeto Nacional, Sexteto Boloña, Sierra Maestra, and Isaac Olviedo. These groups typify some of the early roots of modern salsa.

Try to obtain recordings of Latin music by Arsenio Rodriguez, Machito, Cal Tjader, George Shearing, Tito Puente, Stan Kenton, Nat King Cole, Ismael Rivera, Willie Bobo, Celia Cruz, and Poncho Sanchez. And listening to the bongosero legends like Armando Peraza, José Mangual Sr., Jack Costanzo, Candido Camero, Ray Romero, Willie Rodriguez, Manny Oquendo, and Mongo Santamaria will provide exposure to a wide variety of individual styles. Finally, investigate the more recent wave of dynamic bongoceros, including Anthony Carrillo, José Mangual Jr., David Romero, John Santos, Louis Bauzó, Luis Chacon, and José Miguel Velazquez.

Internet Newsgroups
(These newsgroups often have interesting discussions on bongos and bongoseros)
rec.music.afro-latin
rec.music.makers.percussion
rec.music.makers.percussion.hand-drum

Trevor Salloum is a percussionist, author, and teacher. He has made several trips to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban rhythms. He recently wrote The Bongo Book, published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc., 1997.

Used with permission from Modern Drummer Magazine, January 1998 issue.

Books
Progressive Steps To Bongo And Conga Drum Technique by Ted Reed (Ted Reed Publishing, 1961)
The Bongo Book/CD by Trevor Salloum (Mel Bay Publications , 800-863-5229)

History
Many people think of the bongos as a toy or novelty item, but they have a rich cultural history. Bongos were developed in eastern Cuba in the Guantanamo province in the late 1800s, and are the principle drums of the music styles known as changüi and son (pronounced "sone"). These styles are a blend of the rich African and Spanish cultures of Cuba and contain the roots of modern salsa.

In the '40s and '50s, the bongos emerged as the guiding sound for the beat generation. During this period famous bongo drummers gained commercial success, as evidenced by Jack Costanzo ("Mr. Bongo"), who accompanied the Nat King Cole Trio. I'm sure many of you recall having your parents buy a set of bongos because of their reasonable price and suitability for small hands.  

 

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