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Conga Basics

by Richie Garcia

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Developing a knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms and the numerous instruments used to play these rhythms can be a massive undertaking. Although it's always good to gather as much information as possible, concentrating on a little bit at a time will assist you in firmly understanding all the instruments and how they're used. In order to help you understand some very basic ideas, this article will deal with an introduction to conga drums, and some basic exercises. I hope this information will be useful to you in your pursuit of percussion knowledge.

Conga drums come in three basic sizes.
1) Quinto, is the smallest drum, and is commonly used for solos.
2) Conga, the middle size drum is used to answer patterns played on a tumbadora.
3) Tumbadora, the largest of the three drums is used to lay down the foundation of the specific rhythm being played.

Four basic hand techniques are used on conga drums which create different sounds. Sometimes different signs are used to identify the these techniques on paper, but the technique and sound desired remains the same.

1) > = Slap - The sound produced is just like described, a slap. This is the hardest stroke to master, so don't be discouraged. The hand should be slightly cupped to create a "sound chamber" between the drum head and the palm. Strike the drum toward the center with the underneath of the finger tips. Your other hand should be resting on the drum head which will help create a dry tone.
2) O = Open Tone - Strike the edge of the drum where your fingers and hand join together. Allow your hand to rebound up which will create an "open tone"
3) B = Bass Tone - Strike the drum with the palm of your hand toward the center of the drum.
4) HF = Heel Finger - strike the drum with the heel of your hand, then strike the drum with your fingers. This is two separate motions.

Although you have a basic description of how to do these motions, the best way to really learn these techniques is to have an accomplished conga player demonstrate them to you and help you get them right.

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