“First of all, you’re not playing tone at all! Secondy, there’s only one way of slap! With that – I’m gonna slap you right now – in the face!”
Woah, easy, easy! Look, you can play all the African techniques you want, I don’t mind. I just have a modern take on djembe technique, that’s all. I’m hear to play and teach 21st century beats.
The most basic way to hit the djembe with a slap stroke is with your three middle fingers. Make sure that the tiny ones – thumb and pinky – are out of the game. With this stroke they don’t bring much to the table. You can try playing the slap using four fingers, pinky included, and see what’s up. You will probably come to the same conclusion – whether the pinky also helping with the slap or not, it doesn’t make much difference. The sound is just a bit more cleaner without the pinky’s help.
Slap that edge of the djembe and feel how the whole hand lays resting on the edge after the slap. Basically, you’re should be playing the slap strokes with your palm. The fingers, including fingertips, are just extensions that bounce off automatically when slapped correctly. Do the three-middle-finger slap with one hand, then the other. And the go one by one, with a slow tempo. Later, faster.
Then there’s the single-finger slap. This I do with my index finger and it’s sounds amaaazing. The sound of a slap using only the index finger sounds so pure that this is my go to option most times. With the one finger slap I mostly play the edges, since there is where the really great high pitched sounds are. Same deal with one finger – you play with your palm and the tip of the index finger just bounces by itself. A little magic called inertia.
Now we get to the thumb. This is a super important stroke, actually. It’s the same exact stroke that you use to play the hang drum with (although the hang drum also likes the pervious index finger stroke, as well). With this thumb stroke, you put your hand on the edge of the drum (9 o’clock or 3 o’clock area) and then twist your hand. First, you should try this twist in the air. Take note from Hawaiian surfers and you’ll get the picture. The hand has to be quite loose to do the twist. You can check out how this stroke looks and sounds in the “4 Ways of Slap Strokes with Djembe” video.
And finally, the muted slap. This name makes no sense, but then nor do many things about me so here’s the deal. With one hand (preferably the right) you mute the drumhead as much as possible by placing the hand in the center. And with the other hand you hit the very edge of the djembe. Now this you actually do hit with the fingertips themselves (no playing with the palm here). For some reason, the less the fingertips touch the better, mostly. Only when you want to play the muted slap very loudly should you not fear having those fingertips more on the drum.
It is simply wonderful to have that many brushes in your toolbox, if you know what I mean. Makes the whole expression of what’s inside come alive!