Facts About Conga Drums

Written by carl harper
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Facts About Conga Drums
The tumbadora is one of the three types of conga drums. (tumbadora cubana image by VICTRONICS from Fotolia.com)

The conga drums are percussion instruments that can accompany other percussive instruments including the bongos and djembe. They came from Africa, but garnered fame in Cuba after being used in numerous musical styles including Latin music. There are several ways to play the conga drums and three basic sizes: the tumbadora, conga and quinto.

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Basics

The conga drum is a tall and narrow drum, that has a single head and is generally placed on tripod drum stand to hold it vertically. It is a Cuban drum with African antecedents, and comes from the Makuta drums (tall, cylindrical or barrel-shaped Afro-Cuban drums). A musician who plays a conga is noted as a "conguero," and typically plays it in latin music including merengue, reggaeton and salsa.

Identification

Conga drums are made up of a staved wooden or fibreglass shell with a screw-tension drumhead for tuning purposes. The drums usually come in sets of two or four and are played with the fingers and palms of the hand. Rarely are they played with mallets or other drum sticks. They stand approximately 75 centimetres from the bottom of the drum shell to the head, and are are normally placed on a rack or stand, although they can be played while standing on the ground.

Five Strokes

According to Absoluteastronomy.com, there are five basic strokes that musicians use to play the congas. The open tone stroke is played with four fingers near the rim of the head which produces a clear tone with a distinct pitch. The muffled tone is similar to the open tone by using four fingers, but the fingers are held up against the drum head to muffle the tone. The bass tone with played with the whole palm on the head and projects a low muted sound, typically known as a "bass drum' sound. The slap gives a clear "popping" sound when it is played with fast and short intervals. The touch is a simple stroke of touching the fingers or the heel of the palm to the drum head.

History

With its origins coming from Africa, the conga drum came to Cuba during the slave trade and was popularised by the United States media in the early to mid 1900s. As people would freely travel to and from Cuba, Latin styles of the conga drum rhythms became attractive and catchy. The conga is also called the tumbadora, as this name is the more accurate name of the drum among Cubans.

Tumbadora, Conga and Quinto

There are three sizes of the conga drum when they are played in sets. The Tumbadora (or Tumba) is the low pitched and largest drum of the congas. It plays the low drum rhythm parts. The Conga is the mid-range, medium head conga, and is the most versatile. It mainly plays the middle parts of the three-part rhythm, but can also feature the lowest and highest part of the rhythm depending on what strokes you use to play. The Quinto is the high pitched and smallest conga. It is known as the solo drum and the lead singer of the three-part conga drum set-up.

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