Tips for absolute beginners

A place where discuss about secrets, tips and suggestions for practicing on congas and to improve your skill and technique ...

Tips for absolute beginners

Postby drbongo42 » Wed Oct 25, 2017 10:59 am

Having played the drumkit for over 30 years I have spent the last three months trying to learn the congas - I am having lots of fun and am quite pleased with my progress. Here are some tips I wish I had been given three months ago - gleaned from this forum, the internet and my own experiences. feel free to shoot me down in flames :wink:

1. Avoid buying a cheap entry level conga set - these are generally only 10" (Requinto) and 11" (Quinto) in size which means it is very difficult the get the right sounds and tunings required. I would recommend looking for individual 11" (Quinto), 11.75" (Conga) and 12.5" (Tumba) drums which can be found at reasonable prices on both Ebay and Amazon - you can also easily tune drums of the same size to different notes. The main thing to look out for is the quality and/or thickness of the head - cheaper drums tend to come with thin heads which tend to sound tinny, a cheap drum with a decent thick skin on can sound pretty good. The most important one is the quinto or conga you are going to play most of strokes on:open, heel, toe, closed, slap and bass - the second and third drums will mainly be used for open tones so you can get away with cheaper head/drums here.

2. Learn to tune your congas to a standard tuning e.g. C4-G3 for two drums, C4-Bb3-G3 or C4-G3-E3 or C4-G3-D3* for three drums. If you can't tune by ear use an electronic tuner or app e.g. a Tunebot or Drumtune Pro. There are three benefits to this: your drums will sound good, you will be able to get the correct hand sounds from the drums and you won't over-tighten them. I have found that I get the best results by tuning around the drum clockwise - I first tighten all of the lugs finger tight, then I push down on the rim by each lug and use my finger to tighten it up again. I then start with 1/4 turns (90 degrees), switch to 1/8 turns (45 degrees) as I get close to the desired frequency and finish off with small tweaks. It is also worth giving the drum a good solid punch with the bottom of your fist during the final stages of tuning to prevent the skin from detuning once you start playing it. * I favour this tuning because it doesn't really suggest a chord or key - for a detailed discussion of tuning click here:

3. Always de-tune your drums after playing - a lot of tension is required to get the drums up to the correct pitches and leaving the drums at that tension may damage the head and/or shell over time and if the temperature/humidity changes rapidly it can happen very quickly. This means tuning the drums up every time you want to play, but you will get better and faster at tuning if you do it regularly. I would also recommend keeping drums in cases if possible to protect the heads from weather changes...

4. Master the slap with both hands. This takes weeks and/or months to get sounding right consistently - and there are different ways to get a slap sound and it will vary from drum to drum. Some people slap with their hands near the front edge of the drum, some with their fingers near the middle and others with their fingers near the edge. There isn't a correct way as long as you get the right sound and you don't injure yourself. Learning to do it with both hands means you can give the other one a rest...

5. Practise simple rhythms like the tumbao and guaguanco to recordings at slow to medium speeds until you can play them consistently (left and right handed if you have three drums) and then start adding simple variations or fills. Playing along with recordings (I find Son Montuno ideal) allows you to develop fills and variations that work melodically - fills/variations done in isolation may or may not work when you accompany music...

6. I wouldn't recommend practising for more than an hour at a time to begin with - you can easily overdo it and injure yourself - especially when practising slaps...

7. If you prefer to play sitting down rather than standing, you can buy small rubber feet which lift the drums off the ground and let the bass tones out - I use the meinl ones and they are a lot less bulky than stands. If playing on carpet putting a wooden sound plate under the drum/feet can brighten the sound - you can buy specially made ones with sound grooves cut in - Meinl make some and these double up as skin protectors when transporting the drums in soft cases. I would also recommend buying conga savers - rubber protectors which clip over the lugs and stop the drums getting scratched - again Meinl make some for 8mm and 10mm lugs...

Now if I could just invent a time machine and go back and warn myself...

drbongo 8)
Posts: 20
Joined: Thu Sep 07, 2017 7:32 am

Re: Tips for absolute beginners

Postby hawaiisteve » Fri Dec 28, 2018 9:31 pm

This is brilliant.

As a complete newbie to both playing a musical instrument and to the congas this is a great piece.

I had already went and bought the cheap congas in number 1, lol, but I will definitely learn from 2 - 7

Thanks DrConga
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Dec 27, 2018 9:49 pm

Re: Tips for absolute beginners

Postby Devagar » Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:02 am

As a “noob to be” this is excellent advice!
Posts: 7
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2019 6:22 am

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