How to play the Tone Note

There are 2 highly important, vital elements that every Djembe note has in common -
1)The fingers are NEVER bent
2)The *MCP Knuckle makes contact within EVERY NOTE.
(*That’s the big knuckle that connects your fingers to your hand)


THE TONE NOTE - Half the Hand
The MCP Knuckle is the stretch point. The MCP Knuckle is extended or flexed to the point that the fingertips raise up high enough to slip a piece of paper underneath them and the drum head.- barely visible - visualize it - test it.

  • Fingers are extended - straight - never bent. Closing the fingers will accentuate the MCP Knuckle but is not required ultimately in making the proper sound.
  • The Wrist is the only moving part as it bends up & down as in bouncing a ball OR accidentally touching a hot surface - it is a “flick of the wrist.”
  • Thumbs never, ever, ever touch the drum skin, the side of the drum or the rings. (they are ‘up in the air & out of the way” but relaxed.)
Ah, yes - the Tone - my favorite note! …..and one day - it saved my life….but I’ll get to that in minute…..

The Tone Note is the one that takes the longest to get the sound right. That’s the way it was for me anyway. I would say I worked on this note for several years before it became consistent. This sounds like a long time - but - you see, when you love the sound and the feel of a musical instrument there is no hurry to ‘get it right’. All the time you spend with it is golden! In fact, I love spending lots of time with just me and my instruments and music. I’ve already spent half my life with a guitar and a metronome. Here I go again!
This is where one truly finds their ‘sound’. If you only play with other drummers then you’re always blending in somehow. But when you are alone in that magical space - you can really communicate with yourself and the sound. This is where mindfulness can more efficiently be studied and practiced.

The MCP Knuckle - the Key to the Tone.
The Tone is made completely differently from the Bass note. Now your hand is on the edge of the drum. Well, technically half of your hand. By placing the whole length of your fingers on the skin, the MCP Knuckle that joins your fingers to the back of your hand will automatically rest on the circumference of the top of the drumhead.
The inner padded side of those knuckles, where your fingers meet your palm, will rest on this same circumference as well. They have to!….: 0 ) This is the striking surface for the Tone. The fingers need to stay extended as the MCP Knuckle extends or stretches even more thus lifting the whole length of the fingers of the drum head ever so slightly.
As I said before - “just enough to slide a piece a paper between them and the drum skin.
(Closing the fingers gives the appearance of using half of your hand.)

The MCP Knuckle ultimately produces the Tone all by itself. It takes awhile to feel the extension of just the MCP Knuckle. When the bones of the MCP Knuckle are extended they form a hard striking surface. This gives us the “thud” sound we are looking for. There is huge difference between “thuddy” and “muted” or “muffled”. “Thuddy” still has a round quality to it - the sound doesn’t end abruptly as in a muted or muffled sound.

The Thumbs are not needed, in fact, they are only in the way of making the Tone. This blew my mind at first.
“Really ? Say what”?
It feels a little weird at first but if you hit your thumb on that outer ring one time too many - you’ll know why you don’t need them. Ouch!
I would describe them as “up and out of the way” - literally floating in mid-air.

Back to the Whole Length of the Fingers. They are closed together to form a uniform surface. This is very important as we want the sound to be thick or thuddy. They are straight - not bent at all. I’m going to say that again - the fingers are straight and firm - no bending of any of the knuckles.

The Wrist is the “hinge” for the tone. The motion it makes can be described as a flick of the wrist, bouncing a ball, or even touching a hot surface.
Once again, the least amount of time your fingers touch the skin the better.
The desired sound comes from the upward release of the hand and not
the downward motion. Again, a flick of the wrist is the ultimate goal….

Zoom Room Drummers playing tone technique


"Hand Yoga of Djembe Drumming"" - w/Gregg Hansen

These exercises can improve your Djembe drumming in less than two minutes a day - you don't even need a drum - Yet!....

The “Tone” Hand


Learn how to isolate the three parts of your hand that make the three notes on a Djembe Drum in this FREE four-week course so named the "Hand Yoga of Djembe Drumming

The Djembe Drum is by far the most popular hand drum no matter what kind of drumming you like to do: Drum Circle, Trance, Meditational, Ensemble or Traditional West African. Being able to play all three notes makes everything more fun. And it's fun we're after, right?

This is a FREE four-week course of two-minute exercises to be practiced three times a day for a week. Anyone, anywhere and anytime can do these exercises to isolate the three parts of the hand for Djembe Drumming. Stretching joints and muscles as in yoga, is known to be vital in the maintenance of a healthy, pliable body. However, stretching the hands and fingers are so often overlooked. Your hands and fingers will love you for it whether you play a hand drum or not.

Making good notes on a Djembe Drum - Bass, Tone and Slap - is not a miracle or magic. It's muscle memory and mindfulness along with the correct information.

This FREE four-week-course will get you started. Once you've connected with the three areas of expansion/extension then the application on the drum can truly begin.

PRESCRIPTION: include this simple two-minute exercise in your life at least three times a day no matter where you are. You can do it while watching TV, waiting in line, eating, cooking, taking a walk, even soaking in the hot tub. It's good for you!

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