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Conga Drum

Conga Tuning FAQs

conga drum

How do I know when my conga drums are tuned? 

The most simple way to know whether your drums are tuned is by using your personal judgment.  In other words, if you like the sound, then it is tuned.  Your personal taste is most important.  But with that said, when it comes to tuning a conga set, many players use interval tuning.  Why? Simply because they like that sound and/or because it best harmonizes with other instruments in their band.  Harmonizing the drums by tuning each drum to a certain pitch and certain interval in relation to the other drums is interval tuning (more about interval tuning below).  Before you consider interval tuning here are some tips for tuning.

General Conga Tips

Tip: If the diameter of the head is 9.5" or larger, then tune all the lugs in a star pattern.  Personally, I prefer the star pattern as compared to tuning in a circle (clock-wise or counter clock-wise) because I find the star pattern stretches the head most evenly.  With that said, many congueros simple tune clock-wise or counter clock-wise.  (For small heads, such as on bongos I tune clock-wise or counter clock-wise.)

Tip: Right after you turn each lug, play a slap, open and/or bass tone to hear any change in sound; and determine if that's the sound you want. 

Tip: As the head gets tight make a fist and use the side of your fist (not your knuckles, but the  part beside your pinky) to bang on the center of the head.  This helps to settle the head, rim and lugs.  You might hear a crackle or popping sound when you do this.  That is normal.  You do not need to bang with all your might; firm strikes should do; always use common sense.

Tip: While tuning observe the tightness of the lugs.  Once a lug is very tight, don't force it.  If they are tight and you aren't satisfied with the sound, then loosen the lug(s) and start over.

Tip: When the tuning is complete it is best to have each nut turned about the same amount so that each nut is at about the same spot on each lug.  This keeps the head balanced.

Tip: Sometimes a lug can be loosened (i.e. 1/4 or 1/2 a turn) rather than tightened to achieve the tone and resonance you want.

Tip: Good tuning will allow the conga head to vibrate (like a tight string) and the drum shell to serve as a chamber which resonates.

Tip: There are a many enjoyable tuning combinations for congas, bongos & other hand drums. So, play around and enjoy the sounds!

Q: Should I use interval tuning for my conga set?

What is an interval?

An interval is the distance between notes.  The smallest interval in Western music is a 1/2 step.  The distance between C & C# or E & F is 1/2 step or 1/2 an interval; the distance between C & D is 1 step or a whole interval.  The distance between C & D# is 1 1/2 steps or 3, half steps.  The distance between C & E is 2 whole steps; & so on.

What is common practice by congueros?

Many advanced conga players tune their drums according to intervals.  Poncho Sanchez and Mongo Santa Maria are known for tuning their congas to E-G-C (from lowest to highest; E is the tuning of the tuba and high C the tuning of the quinto.)  E-G-C is an inverted C major chord. and is called the first inversion of the C major chord.  The C major chord is comprised of the C-E-G (I-III-V) notes.  Even if you change the order of those notes it is still a C major; but when you change the order it is called an inverted chord.  Poncho & Mongo's tuning makes excellent harmonies, but it's not the only option.  Many other professionals use other intervals and tunings.

Tip: Interval tuning is an effective way to harmonize the drums, but it's not your only option.  The most important thing is to like how they sound and harmonies between the drums and with other instruments when playing with others.

Tip: Some tuners can register the low, fundamental, frequency of a drum.  Finding a tuner that does that can help you to play around with many different tunings. 

Tip: Trial & error can be a great teacher.  Have fun & be creative!

  Conga drum

Bongo Drum Tuning

Conga Drums