How to play the Slap Note

There are 2 highly important, vital elements that every Djembe note has in common -
2)The *MCP KNUCLE makes contact within EVERY NOTE. (*That’s the big knuckle that connects your fingers to your hand)


The Finger Pads and the MCP Knuckles are extended to make contact. The ‘Pads” are the stretch point - fingers are open and long. The MCP Knuckle is making contact but not as the primary contact. It has to strike the drumhead too in order for the fingers to stay extended. The Wrist like the Tone, is the only moving part as it bends up & down like bouncing a ball OR accidentally touching a hot surface - it is a “flick of the wrist”.

  • The Pads of the fingers are extended to the point of the fingers feeling longer. Imagine stretching the fingertips while the pads actually make the contact on the drum.
  • The Fingers are extended, straight, open and apart - never bent.
  • Thumbs never, ever, ever touch the drum skin, the side or the rings. (they are ‘up in the air & out of the way” but relaxed

*Though this note is traditionally called a “Slap” - the actual physical motion is more like a “Tap”.

This is the note everyone thinks they have to hit harder to produce. As it turns out, this is not completely true. I finally received some proper instruction five years into my journey. Before that I kept trying to make a slap by striking the drum harder and harder.. At some point I remember asking myself - “how much harder do I have to strike as nothing seems to be working”? My teacher, Sam, finally shed some light on this dilemma. He said it’s more like a “Tap” than a “Slap” as the force of the hand is not the final difference. The part of your hand striking the drum is always the difference. In my teaching to beginning-beginners I would use the word “tap” instead of “slap” so as to reinforce the lightness of this stroke. Do not mistake “light” for “soft”.

The Slap uses extended finger pads and the MCP knuckle at the same time. However, the difference is always the extension or feel of the fingers and MCP Knuckles on the inside of the hand. The focused extension is on the finger pads while the MCP knuckle simply makes contact along with the extended fingers. Open your fingers and stretch them from the finger pads - stretch them even more - this is the Slap. Feel the finger pads strike the skin. One can slip a corner of a piece of paper between the drumhead and the middle of the fingers - not including the MCP knuckle.
The Thumbs are not needed, just like the tone, they are only in the way. 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 being “up and out of the way” - literally floating in mid-air.

Back to the Whole Length of the Fingers. They are apart and extended. Having them open is very important as we want this sound to be thinner or ringier than the tone. The fingers are always extended and straight - not bent at all. I’m going to say that again - the fingers are extended and straight - no bending of any kind of any of your knuckles.

The Slap and the Tone are only related by the movement of the wrist and the extension of the fingers.

The Wrist is the “Hinge”. 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 slap 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 “Slap” 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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