Scroll down for Percussion FAQ
Q; I have been playing Tabla for
about 2 1/2 years now. Although it feels like I have only been playing
for a few months. Regarding terakita. I have noticed many tabla players
(including both of my old gurus) when they start playing fast Te Ra Ki
Ta, they look like they are waving their hand from side to side. Is
there an exaggerated sideways motion?
A; It looks like the hand moves from side to side in an extreme way but
it doesn't really. It is an illusion created by where the fingers strike
the drum. For the one fingered 'te' the finger strikes exactly in the
middle of the black spot. When the three fingered 'te' strikes then the
middle (longest) finger strikes exactly in the middle of the black spot
(Gab) Therefore, when you play 'tereketetaka' fast and the hands 'blur'
it looks like there is an extreme sideways or waving motion. Try to work
a lot on 'Dha - tere kete taka tere kete' (Three beats long)
Q; You use two bols
which I am not sure about which are KRE and DHET. I assume these are
some kind of compound bols?
A; Kre is a flam between ke and te. Ke precedes te by a milli second.
Dhet is an accented version of 'DHE' although I have heard it
interpreted slightly differently rarely.
Q; A build up
of talc has removed most of the resonance from my high tabla, can you
suggest any remedies (apart from a new head...!) ?
A; You can sometimes scrape it off gently with a flat blunt metal
object. I often use the edge of a square tabla hammer. It does not
always work that well. Do not dig in when scraping because you can
damage the black spot. Sounds to me like there might be too much talc
being used to compensate for the hands sweating.
Q; Tabla (being such a delicate instrument) tends
to get lost once playing with other instruments, can you suggest a way
of lightly amplifying tabla to make it stand out a bit better...?
A; I use a clip on audio technica mic on the dynha and I have a
Sennheiser mic inside the byha for louder situations. Failing this you
can use two clip ons. The only draw back is you can't play 'deredere'
For more classical settings a single SM57 should suffice.
Q; What are you playing in the folk Rhythm clip in
your tabla video lessons. They seem like a really nice way to learn
Bayan Modulation because you play the same thing over and over on the
Tabla, leaving room for concentration on the bayan?
A; There are dozens of possibilities. With the Dynha, (hi tabla) you can
play a whole load of repetitive patterns...
1 ta ti ta ta 2 ta ti tin tin
3 tin tin ta ti 4 ta tin tin tin
5 tin tin ta tin 6 te te ta ta 7 te te te ta
1 ge - - ke - ge ge -
2 ge - - ge - ge ge - - - - ke - ge ge -
3 ge - - ge - - - - - - - ge - ge ge -
Listen out to folk stuff and that will get your imagination wandering.
Q; Do you know of any teacher that I could go to
that could take a look at my technique and correct it? How can I find
teachers in my area?
A; If you are near London I would suggest going to the Bharita Vidya
Bhavan in South Kensington or else contact JAS musicals and find a
teacher through them. Alternatively visit all the Tabla
educational sites on my links page. Many of them have lists of
teachers by area. Otherwise pop into your local Indian temple and
ask in there. They will often know of a local player. Bear
in mind that good technique is built up over years and the teachers
respect takes some earning so this is an idiom that you really need to
be patient with.
Q; Are there any
videos/dvd's/tutor books you could recommend for Tabla? I am having a
lot of trouble tracking some down.
A; There is actually a free book on my web site that covers the basics.
'The essential guide to Tabla' on the lessons page, Tabla Tutorials.
There are also loads of video tutorials on the strokes etc as well.
HERE! Alternatively, try the JAS musicals
web site. They have some.
Q; If you don't mind, I want to ask a few
questions as regarding buying a tabla, since I'll have to buy one
through internet from abroad as well (I am in Malta and no one sells it
here). Since I won't be able to actually see and try what I'll buy, what
do you suggest to keep an eye on?
A; I would trust a purchase from JAS musicals in London. They have a web
site and usually sell reasonable drums. Avoid a western drum shop as
they don't know what they are importing.
Q; As for learning, do you think I can manage
without any music theory knowledge using your tutorial to at least get
started? Or should I start with something else?
A; Tabla is very, very hard even with a teacher and even if you are
already a musician. I am not sure how possible it would be without but,
only time will tell. There has certainly been no better time with the
availability of information around.
Q: Where can I find
a good teacher in London?
A: Try indian community centres or Indian music shops such as Jas
musicals or Bina. Also, often adult education centres offer tabla
lessons. Try visiting all the Tabla links on this site and see where
that leads you.
Q: How often should a beginner have lessons?
Regularly, but the work you do away from them is more important.
You do not want bad habits to set if you leave too long between lessons.
It is hard to find the right teacher for you but don't be scared to
change if you feel it is not working. Listen really hard and try
to transcribe stuff. Don't always wait to be shown.
Q: Are technique lessons sufficient enough or do
you need to carry on having lessons throughout your life?
A: Depends how good you want to be technically. Your goal should be to
make music so depending on the complexity of that music you will need to
plan accordingly. Luckily we can have lessons throughout our
lives. It really is true that the more you know, the more you
realise what you don't know.
Q: Who did you learn from? and where did you
A: Various teachers. Mainly Yousuf Ali Khan (North Indian) and
Karaikudi Krishnamurthy (Carnatic). Private lessons
Q: How did you know what style to choose?
A: Fate! But I was lucky to have learnt Callcutta/Farukhabad style which
I love. I try to listen to and learn from all styles, from the purely
classical to folk to experimental. They all have their voice and
acknowledging them will help to enrich yours.
Q: I have been trying to record dhol at my studio
but have been very unsuccessful. I get a lot of "clicking"
noises...similar to a stick striking a plastic drum head. I can't get
the authentic dhol sound. Is there a good way to record dhol so it
sounds real? Can you please provide me some information on mic
placement, mics i should be using, and types of dhol? Thank you. Your
help is highly appreciated.
A: Johnny from the dhol foundation uses a standard sm57 fitted inside
the drum angled slightly more towards the bass end to stop the dominance
of the treble end. In the studio I would try a close mic either
end and then something ten or so feet away to get the ambient 'bigness'
of the sound. Then you can control and EQ the balance between the treble
and bass. There are some great traditional Dhols with Goat
skin both ends. I got a fantastic one when I was in Pakistan.
An immense sound and truly sweeter than the plastic skinned option.
Q; Are you happy with your tabla technique
dheredhere, dhenegene, dhingnara? Can the technique be achieved
(compared to Indian tabla players)? I am just curious because often you
hear people say that it can't be done if you don't start at an early
If you work hard enough anything can be achieved, and don't let anyone
convince you otherwise. These are great patterns and can always be
improved. When you say 'compared to Indian Tabla players' you are
thinking of the top players in the world because that is generally all
we see here in the West. Just like there are thousands of mediocre kit
players to the percentage of great ones in the west, so to it is in
India with Tabla players. Compare yourself to Zakir or Anindo for
dhinegene and you have a good excuse to work really hard at it.
Similarly, if you can't get it anywhere near that speed then it does not
mean it is invalid. All things are relative and you have to find a way
to digest the impossible tempos the greats get up to in a way that
inspires you rather than deflates you. Try...
Dha ti ge ne dhi ne Dha ti ge ne dhi ne Dha ti ge ne
Dhi ne Dhi ne Dhi ne Dhat ti ge ne dhi ne Dha ti ge ne (8 bts)
The left hand plays GE - GE - (3 - 1) throughout. Remember, being
good technically is important but the goal is to make music. There are
many examples of players with stunning technique who fail to do this
because they are too wrapped up in their own ego.
Q; I have been playing tabla for a couple of years
and have just got myself a kanjira. I understand that the drum head
needs to be made moist before playing to get the deeper sounds out of.
I'm a bit wary of making the drum head too wet as obviously I don't want
to spoil it. What is the best way to moisten the head sensibly? I guess
you get a lot of queries through your website but it would be good for
any advice you have.
A; You can't really make it so wet so as to cause damage. It will dry
out. Try to get one of those little water spray bottles like a perfume
bottle so you can control the application. Start with small amounts.
Kanjira players always have two or three drums on the go on stage at
once, all with differing degrees of moistness,
Q; I have been looking for info on tabla head replacement? I may want to
get a new one at some point, but as I am still new to tablas I do not
know how I would go about replacing the heads.
A; It is such a major job that I would suggest you get it done at the
shop. In the UK they often bin it if it is a regular tabla and supply a
new one because it works out about the same cost.
Q; I was wondering if you had any views on
'whether Indian rhythms have had any major influence on western popular
or classical music in the past two centuries? Any help you could give me
with this would be greatly received.
A; I don't really see much evidence of it. There are the obvious
collaborations with Ravi Shankar and Zubin Mehta and there were
apparently a lot of folk tunes that were scored for harpsichord in the
late 1800's. Then there is of course the new generation of British
Asians who have spliced into the western music scene but the main throw
of study seems to be on the musicologist and phd studies. Again, this is
more of an observation than any effort at integration of any sort. I
think that successful integration and influence of such diverse musical
systems necessitates in depth studies of both systems. The turgid
attempts made by some modern composers really fit a sorry bill! In
Summary, I don't see much evidence. If there is anyone out there
who believes otherwise, please let me know.
Q; What exactly is dhene dhene? Is it just dhe (dha
and te) and ne as in na/ta?
A; No. DheneDhene is one of the more advanced styles of rella
composition. It is difficult to explain but is played on the edge of the
dyhna, a little bit like tetetete or thunethune on the edge of the drum.
(This is a very simple explanation of an intricate technique)
Q; Also the variations like dere dere and so on.
A; Dheredhere is the technique where a varient of tetetete is played
with the underside of the palm at the base of the little finger and the
base of the thumb. The hand is moved forward so the palm of the hand is
over the gab. It is a very famous stroke combination.
Q; Are these the really fast machine gun like
'fills' we hear when we hear zakir? Or are they just tere (tete, 1,3)?
A; A lot of the fast stuff is rella variations such as tereketetaka etc
but is also more complex combinations involving the above stroke
combinations and many others.
Q; When playing a tal as in a beat/pattern, how
can we work out fills and the like, or interruptions or pauses in the
A; Have lots of formulas for each tihai you know. A four beat tihai for
example with work in a 5 beat tal if you either count off one beat
before you play it or else make the gap in between each section half a
beat longer. I would suggest tracking down a good teacher and one you
can trust. Also, listen like mad to the music and try to find a way to
write down some of the things you hear. Even if it is an approximate
guide it will help develop ideas.
Q; I've looked through some of the free lessons
you have online, and I'm going to work through some of them with an eye
to interpretation on other instruments. Where do I start?
A; The 'Indian rhythms applied to drum set' section is quite a
transparent overview of a lot of Indian rhythmic systems which can be
applied to many instruments besides drum set. Also the south Indian
Q; Which model of Tablas do you use?
A; There are many sorts of Tabla I use. Each district in India makes
slightly different models. Some are branded by the shop name.
Q; Right now I'm
about to graduate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston where my
major is marimba. In addition to marimba though I have been playing a
bit of drumkit and other percussion (doumbek, frame drums, tabla and now
mridangam) I am wondering if you studied intensively in India, and
if you think that is a necessary move. I would like to see the culture,
and to see the music in its home. Did you do all your studies of tabla
and mridangam in England? Or at least initially before doing these big
concerts in India?
A; I studied entirely in the UK until very recently. In many ways when
you learn in the west the educational systems the teachers employ are
usually geared to a quicker and more methodical structure than the
traditional Guru/Sisha structure where the student earns the respect of
the teacher over many years. Going to India and checking out all that
goes on is a valuable experience but I think that the more technically
developed you are when you go there then the more you would get from the
situation. The standard out there is incredibly high and people take it
very seriously and demand a very big slice of commitment.
Q; One of my
mentors here has sort of advised me to go to India just to "get it out
of my system" - as I will realize the stuff is far beyond anything I
might want to invest my life into. It's sort of addictive - the
more I practice tabla or mridangam the more I want to drop the drum kit
or marimba and just see if I could one day achieve that. How do you
A; As you probably realise, you need to create your own vision of the
percussive world as a whole. The Indian thing is deeply intricate and
challenging but developing applications outside of the traditional music
is another challenge altogether. It may well be that a life as a soloist
on Indian percussion is what you might seek but the danger of getting
too absorbed in anything like that exclusively for a long period of time
is that it can isolate your overall vision if you are not careful.
Having said that, I was deeply and exclusively studying it for some
years with Indian masters here. Indeed, some sort of extreme focus is
needed with such a complex system. Getting it out of your system is not
really how I would see it. It needs to be at the right time and you need
to have secured the right teacher out there. There are horror stories.
One of my old students went there for 18 months. He had learnt from me
for 3 years and although not natural or fantastically dedicated, he was
certainly intermediate. A teacher out there had him for 9 months on dha
dha te te, hundreds of really boring variations as well.
Q; I find your
playing and career so inspiring because it's so close to a path I've
gotten myself started on. My teachers have all sort of pushed me in
their direction as a specialist. Slowly I'm building a musical character
strong enough to see a different way, and they respect that. The
success stories in players like yourself is what I really have to go by.
At this point I'm really curious what sort of advice you have about
continuing studying with tabla and mridangam - did you have a chunk of
time to study intensively? Long practice sessions uninterrupted by other
aspects of your musical career? That seems to be the positive aspect of
going to India to study. What do you think?
A; All that you add to the cooking pot will add to your individuality
just so long as you have a vision of what you want to achieve. I really
think that hybrid styles of playing is the way forward with a multi
ethnic approach. To have absorbed and been inspired by many different
things but to retain a sense of individuality and identity is a
challenge in itself. Any tradition and developed solo style of playing
will give rise to specialists who want to focus entirely on that one
thing. They will obviously look for the same in their students and
although masters in their field may not entirely comprehend someone with
a more eclectic approach. In summary I would advise you to keep all your
instruments and studies in your sights and shift the focus for periods
of time you feel you need to master or develop certain things. Also, for
writing it will really be a benefit. However inspired a tabla solo is,
the fact is that the audience is very small and specialised. I
certainly think that with any tradition you need to get inside it to do
it justice and them maybe extrapolate onto other idioms and settings. To
get to that level obviously takes time. I certainly spent eight solid
years focusing on getting stuff down but then I realised that it was
doing my career no good at all in terms of developing work and contacts.
That is another task altogether! The last thing you would want is
an ivory tower approach and isolation.
Q; Hey Pete - love
the site! I have been playing Djembe for a bit and am now picking up the
drum set and tablas. My question concerns the tablas though: lately, the
right tabla produces a metallic ringing sound in addition to the clear
tone it started with when I got them (only a couple of weeks ago). I am
wondering if this is a problem with tuning or a defect in the drum
itself; it sounds like there is something physically vibrating against
the underside of the drum head, but I can't be certain if that is what
is happening. Any suggestions appreciated! Thanks.
A; Sadly it is a common problem with the tabla. The black spot is made
of a flour based paste which dries and cracks. Sometimes one of the
little sections comes loose and starts to buzz. It really means the drum
needs a new head. If you can track down the tiny buzzing section then a
small spot of super glue could save the day but you do loose a bit of
resonance. Also, if you have a couple of attempts then the head becomes
very dull indeed. It can happen to a brand new drum or could take years.
Q; I have a question about Kanjira technique,
specifically around 4 closed notes followed by a bass note. I am
basically new to kanjira. I was told that you always start with the 3
and "never" with the 1. In some of your examples, you start with the 1st
finger. Glen Velez also teaches kititaka starting with the 1. Are these
both "traditional" ways to play? I have studied west African drumming
for the last 9 years, I have learned that with indigenous cultures there
can be many "correct" or "traditional" ways to play the same thing. at
least with west African, it depends on your teacher and who they learned
from and what village or area that they came from in west Africa. Is
kanjira technique similar in this respect? is there more than 1
"correct" or "traditional" way to play the same thing? What I'd like to
avoid is learning something incorrectly and then having to unlearn and
A; As with any fingerings or stickings it depends on where you
are leading to with the phrase. If the destination is an open bass tone
with the first finger at high speed then you would lead with the first
finger with the closed sixteenths. It is really born from the mridangam
technique where they play fast articulations of sixteenths on the rim of
the drum leading predominantly with the first finger to enable execution
of the 'nam' stroke. It is also relevant to 'rang rellas' (Ringing
rellas' on the Tabla where the 16ths/32nds are aproached likewise.
Kanjira is a very young solo instrument with the only real prominent
masters so far being Selva Ganesh and the late 'great' Hari Shankar. I
was lucky enough to tour India with Selva a couple of years ago on one
of my concert tours and learnt a lot about his approach. His opinion is
also that it is a young instrument and is having techniques developed
all the time. To highlight this with an example he has started a
technique where he uses the fingers of the left hand to help create
rolls of similar density to that of Tabla. He developed this himself
after seeing Glen Velez. (Tar technique)
Every Kanjira player I have ever seen articulates the rolls involving 4
notes + tum as 1313/1. Selva actually articulates them in two ways, as
in 1-3-1-3/1 or 1-3/1 or 3-13-1/3 or 3-1/3. This involves playing an
open bass tone with the ring finger. Not easy in context but great to
work on! Another very important point is that all Kanjira players
interpret compositions in different ways. In the words of Selva, you
find a fingering that works. It is the same with Mridangam players.
Unlike in North India where KIDATAKATEREKETE ALWAYS means the same
thing, in the South it is 'interpreted' by the performer, sometimes
under the restrictions of their teacher. The point is that there
really is no wrong and right way as I see it. If it sounds right, go
with it. If he wants to teach you that way, accept it to get information
but retain the freedom to play both ways. At the end of the day you want
to develop both striking units to their max.
Q; I just received
my first set of Tabla's, and I have a question about Tuning. Is there a
certain note that each one is to be tuned at?
A; The hi drum is tuned to the tonic of the music. (Key note) For
practice this is not an issue. Just tune evenly.
Q; Also, that sound you get from the Byha, it
sound like dwuup. Well, I hope you know what I am describing, is that
something that take a lot of practice is that discussed in your lessons?
A; Byha technique takes a long time to develop. Stay with a clear open
tone to begin with.
Q; I have a few
questions regarding fingerings on the bass tabla please. GheGe TeTe
GheGe NaNa ….. I understand that it is 3-1 , 3-1 in the Baya. Can we
also play it as 1-3 1-3 ?
A; No. This would always be 3-1 for all gharanas that use the 3/1
Q; What should ne the Baya fingering for - TaGe
TeTe GheGe TeTe GheGe NaGe DhiNa GeNa ?
A; (For the purpose of this email I have indicated the fingerings
thus... The three fingered Ge I have written as G3 or the one fingered
GE as G1. If there is a stroke using the Dyhna as well then I have used
the first letter of that bol and the left hand fingering. Eg, DHA with a
three fingered GE will be D3 etc.) Ta G3 TeTe G3G1 TeTe G3G1 NaG1 D3Na
Q; What about DhaTi DhaGe DhiNa GeNa ?
A; D3Ti D3G1 D3Na G1Na ?
Q; What about DhaTi GeNe DhiNe DhaTi GeNe DhiNe
A; In this example GE will be 3-1-3-1-3-1-3-1. This is commonly played
fast and the byha strokes are usually played at a high pitch so you get
that continuous eighth note pattern supporting what is happening on the
Q; What about DhaTi GheGe NaGe DhiNe DhaTi GeNe
DhaTi GheGe NaGe DhiNe NaRa KeNe ?
A; This is a slightly more involved
combination that some gharanas and players within those gharanas might
approach differently. With two different teachers from the Callcutta/Farukabad
gharana I have been offered different alternatives Ideally all the GHEGE
'doubles' should be 3-1. Then GEDHI should ideally be 1-3. This makes
some combinations a little tricky and awkward. One guy was very strict
about fingerings for the Byha whilst the other felt that finding a
fingering that fits logically was OK. It is similar to fingerings on the
piano or sticking combinations on tuned percussion such as marimba/vibes
etc. I would go with what your teacher suggests or else find a
combination that works, just so long as it does not confuse the poetry
and grace of the composition. Bear in mind that some Tabla players only
use the three fingered stroke anyway.
Q; Your tabla playing
sounds awesome!I was wondering how you get that nice airy sound in tabla
recordings? We have recorded a bunch of records (bhajans) with tablas,
but they tend to sound kind of dead. Is the recording space important?
Should we use a condenser mike - if so, do you have any favorites? Do
you get the reverb from the room or by adding it later? It is such a
complex instrument with so many subtle tones, it is one the hardest
instruments to record! Your live tabla recordings are also nice. What
mikes should we use in a live setting? Thanks for such an informative
A; I think that if they are tuned
nicely and in a nice space then you can get a good result with an sm57
and go to tape with the eq completely flat. Just get a pure signal. Live
I actually use audio technica clip ons. I have a senhieser black fire
perc mc inside the byha permanantly. In the studio I also get a good
result with rode nt1-a. An amazing mic for the price.
Q; I am new to Kanjira and very eager to learn, your site has been a
huge help! Thanks so much for posting so much great information! I
really look forward to hearing your CD!
I have a beginners question and was wondering if it could be answered
/explained over email. Basically I understand that you are supposed to
wet the inside of the drums skin. How should this be done? Any tips on
how to tell what is enough or too much?
A; If you can get a tiny water
sprayer it would be ideal, like a perfume sample spray or something like
that that you can re fill each time you play. Then do a few tests. Spray
a copule of squirts, rub it in and wait for a min to see what effect is
has had. Be patient because it takes a while for the pitch to go down.
This way you can log how much works by the number of sprays. Bear in
mind that different humidity in the air will be a changing peramiter
that will influence the result as well.
Q; I own both what I thought was
a Dumbek and a Darabuka. I bought a traditional clay drum, beautifully
covered in pearls from the Red Sea when I was in Egypt, I believe this
to be a Dumbek? I also have a traditional Turkish drum that is
slightly smaller, sythetic head, made of metal with a much slender body
and more curve to it. is this a Darabuka? as in your videos you refer to
what I thought was a Dumbek as a Darabuka (from Egypt). However, I'm
sure that what I'm describing to you, which is a very turkish sound, is
not a Dumbek! I've got myself all confused ....
A; Well, the terms are so miss-used that they really cease to mean
either. Even between different countries in the middle east they call
them conflicting things. The most traditional term for the round edged
drum is actually the Arabic tabla. The thin aluminum ones without curved
edges are more often identified as the Turkish darabouka. However, this
is called Zarb in Azerbaijan. Zarb however is a totally different drum
altogether from persia. Confused!! The truth is that technically the
square edged ones use the finger flicking method whilst the curved edged
ones do not.
Q; I am facinated by how much you have achieved
where all the different styles of percussion are concerned, I am at
present very locked into the Conga & bongo's, plus I play Drum set a
little but more into Timbales, Tamborim, octabans, Roto toms and that
sort of thing for sticks. How long do you devote to each
instrument that you want to develop?
A; I would advise a few years focused on a new instrument before moving
on to the next. Some things, such as Tabla take a lot longer.
Q; Do you try and make some sort of obvious
progression from one to the other, i.e; as your technique improves on
one instrument I find that other groups of instruments can benefit from
this learning such as Conga slaps are similar to slaps on darabuka and
A; That is certainly true. Do not neglect the other instruments when you
take a new one on board!
Q; .I'm starting to play 3
congas, which one should be "center" between "quinto" and "conga"??
A; I tend to think of it as the quinto being the central drum with the
low tuned drum to my right and the medium drum on my left. Different
players have different configurations. This is only what I prefer.
Q; If I play 2 congas, what's
perfect choice between tumba+conga or conga+quinto??
A; That is dependent on the situation. Conga and tumba is fine for most
situations but I prefer quinto and conga as long as the conga is not
tuned too high.
Q;From now on, I tune 3 set by check sound "Here
comes the bride" Do you have any quick tip to tune 3 congas and 2 congas
A; It is really by ear and different for each individual. The system you
have sounds fine. If the environment is humid, they go down quite a lot
which defeats the point of accurate tuning anyway. I tend to use the
remo heads so they are always set.
Q; My stick heights do
not match when i try and play fast (left hand higher, right low) Could
you please give me some tips?
Also ive just bought a double bass pedal and was wondering if you could
help me. i want to use it in funky beats and fills, when i try and play
it sounds like im a wanna be Joey Jordison, please help. (no disrespect
A; Regarding the stick heights. Just
practice and practice. Look in detail at exactly how each hand is
holding the stick. Make sure you have a secure fulcrum that is not
collapsed. Make sure you are not 'grabbing' the sticks. Spend time with
just your weakest hand and practice slowly making sure you are relaxed
and not tense. Regarding double pedal. Try breaking up the patterns with
the two feet rather than all the sixteenths. Try to get some lyrical
patterns with the two pedals but as if they were one voice. Also, work
through all your rudiments with your feet, esp ruffs and ratamacues etc.
Q;The synthetic skin best for which
situation??Live-Studio, Outdoor-indoor (kindly compare strength and
weakness between synthetic skin and rawhide skin
A; Any humid or outdoor situation is a problem for any natural skin on
drums. Drum sets were no different and look how few kits have natural
heads now. The remo heads I use are very strong. With either natural or
plastic conga heads, you would need to get out a sledge hammer to break
them. Natural heads however do split when left tuned up in direct
Q; I have just bought a Cajon, looking to add
something different to our accoustic performances. I wondered if you
have any tips on playing one or rhythm samples etc. There seems to be
little info on the web about them. I've searched for ages just looking
for a video clip of someone playing one. Not even sure where the best
place to mic one up is. Just experementing at the moment.
A; A lot of djembe technique transfers onto it. Outside of the
traditional spanish stuff it really is a drum to experiment on. Look
into the trad spanish rhythms though. Most stuff on the drum is based on
'RLRL' african style patterns but it also takes hybrid indian/arabic
techniques etc. Ideally mic with a mic at the back by the hole for the
bass and one at the front for the treble. Otherwise, at the front below
the hands so you don't knock it.
Q; Apart from our 'normal' gigs, we are planning to do some purely
accoustic gigs where I intend to do some percussive stuff. I have had a
look around but am pretty unsure as to what sort of thing to try. I have
the cajon which I have just bought but is there anything you would
A; Yes, sit on the cahon and have a few other things around. Bongos on a
stand, a floor tom, a couple of cymbals, some perc efx and stuff on a
rack. Think of covering all the frequencies available on a drum kit and
you can't go wrong.
Q; My name is andy and I've just
bought a Premier Signia ( very rare ) and in trying to find the right
sound i want, i know it's the right snare and the sound i want is
explosive and i've attatched the song with the snare sound on it. At the
moment my snare sounds like a marching snare or a tico torres ( really
high and tight ) it also sounds like a metal snare when it is made out
of 100% maple! Please can you help me and give me advise on what skins
to buy for it, i thought about an ebony pinstripe because it is soooo
thick it might give me the sound i want, but i'm confussed at the moment
on what to do and it will be needed for some serious recording.Please
could you help me Pete!
A;The first thing to bear in mind is that the snares we hear on heavily
produced recordings are not always a reflection on what can be achieved
acoustically with ease. I'm amazed how different a drum can sound once
it has had the 'producers treatment' For example, if you add a fairly
short but massive reverb onto a snare like it has been played in a
massive hall so it is really resonant for say half a second and then add
a second reverb to that so you get a decay you get a really powerful and
massive sound with a long decay, not an overly resonant reverb overkill
you would get with the first massive reverb on a longer setting.
Compression, gateing and a whole load of possibilities go into the sound
architecture when processing a snare sound for a highly produced
recording so you need to go easy on yourself when you try to replicate
the same thing at home.
The sound on this recording that you sent (Filter, welcome to the fold)
sounds like quite a deep shelled snare to me. It is tuned quite low. I
would try a coated pinstripe. Tune the drum up normally so it is quite
high and then loosen the lug furthest away from you. You can even take
it our totally. It does not matter if there are crinkles in the skin
there. This will make the drum sound fatter, less 'pingey' and more what
you want. Even loosen a second lug a lot if it is not fat enough for
you. It is the sort of tuning that does not suit tight controlled
'closed' snare drum work but should sound fat. Hitting with rimshots for
all back beats can also really add to that 'crack'
Bear in mind also that every room sounds totally different. It might
sound great in one space and not be so effective in another. That is
just basic acoustics that we have to deal with all the time so remember
that most times you have to tune to the space and not to a pre
Q; I am using logic 5.5.1 audio on a mac and i am
a bit stuck on imported audio files I’m creating the 2 bar loop in
reason and importing them into the logic arrange sequencer etc the tempo
is set at 180 bpm in reason and in logic but when I copy the loop to
make a 4 bar 8 bar etc i find i can hear and see a tiny gap in between
the loop can you help me?
A; I assume you are bouncing/exporting the audio file from reason before
importing into logic? The best option would be to time stretch in the
time and pitch machine in the audio window. (Double click audio file in
logic) It will tell you how long the file is in bars, for example 3.996
bars long. You just change that to 4 bars and that would stretch the
file to the right length. If it is only the imported file you want to
set the tempo to then you can do this... Select left and right locaters
to the length of the required file. Highlight the audio file in the
arrange window choose OPTIONS - TEMPO - set tempo using object length
and locaters This will set the tempo to that loop. This works fine if
all your other stuff is midi but it will not work if you have other
audio files in the first tempo. Save the song under a different
name. I always save with a different letter, say, groove song a, then
groove song b when I have made drastic changes. I usually get through
the alphabet and end up with a folder full of historic versions of each
song but they don't take up much memory. More importantly, get ableton
live as well.
Q; I was wondering if you knew
anywhere in the UK or nearby that can sell/make me an udu with a
fundamental note of 'E' . I'm having real problems tracking one down!
A; Udus...There are a number of possibilities. Firstly, I would consider
getting a Ghatam from an Indian shop such as guru-soundz in Ilford or
JAS musicals. They are very precise with getting their ceramic drums
tuned, unlike most Udu manufacturers. The only thing you need to decide
is whether the hole at the top gives you the variations for the bass
tones you might require. The other option is to try one of the new Meinl
fibreglass udus. They are quite thick and the open bass tones are good.
The peculiarity is that because they are fibreglass the pots don't seem
to have an intrusive root note, although you do get the definition of
the finger strokes. It is my fail safe pot to take on sessions where you
don't necessarily know the root of the tracks before you get there.
Other than that I am not sure of any specialist potter that makes them.
Q; I got into percussion because I want to improve
my rhythmic skills and broaden my musicianship. That was my first
intention towards percussion. I started with the conga and quickly
branch out to Djembe, Udu, Shakers, Tambourine, drumsticks and other
small percussion etc for the last 5 months. Two musical problems that I
have now are internalizing rhythms and improvisation. My teacher told me
not to count rhythms but to feel it. That's a pretty new concept to me.
My teacher said that I have a gap between my mind and my physical. I
could not present my idea clearly through my playing. So these are two
musical problems that I am facing. I want to learn "How to create music
and express myself" rather than learning the technical. I want to learn
to apply what I have learn into music making.
A; Sounds to me like you are very reflective and searching regarding
your philosophies of music besides the technical aspect of your playing.
This is something that one continues to develop throughout ones entire
life and is certainly an aspect of music that holds no simple answer.
All our individual experiences and approaches are distinctly different
from musician to musician and it is the quest to peruse answers to those
mysteries that shapes all of us into the players we are. Some people
become great players through angst, some through anger, some through
sheer joy at the instrument, others through study and analysis and
others through gritty determination. Laying foundations technically for
any instrument takes a lot of determination because one has to battle
through so many psychological issues when faced with not being able to
perform something technically in the beginning. It is quite often
difficult to get through that period because it is not all fun. This is
something that has to be accepted and when it is it makes the learning
process a lot easier.
Also, you have not been playing that long and you want to take a lot of
new instruments on board very quickly. I would suggest you focus on one
instrument for a longer period. I usually suggest to people at lease two
years on an instrument before moving on to a new one.
Regarding wanting to express yourself musically. I would compare it to
learning a language. If you had been learning Spanish for example for 5
months then you would not expect to be writing a novel or having an in
depth conversation on Spanish novelists. However, you would be able to
get across basic ideas and most importantly, feelings. I think you
should think of the first few years as a technical development period
where you are gathering the basic tools of your trade. Outside of that,
if you play in a band playing the sort of music you want then you will
find a way to express yourself inspired by music you like. I joined a
band after two weeks and had a fantastic time. As time develops you
begin to express yourself with more articulation. Don't confuse
expressing yourself with the degree of articulation you use to express
Regarding your teachers observations. It is not for me to interfere but
if he/she is pointing out these 'problems' then it is for them in all
their worldly wisdom to present you with solutions or at least a
direction towards a solution. It is about balancing your thinking and
feeling functions. Both analysing and feeling music is important. Try to
focus on both areas and try to define what they mean. Focus on what you
'feel' when you listen to music that moves you. It is a distinctly
removed emotion than when you analyse it. Try both. Try notating and
transcribing as best you can the percussion on four tracks. It does not
matter how you do it as long as you remember what your signs and symbols
mean. Then try another four tracks and try to get inside them and feel
them without analysis. Develop some concepts freely based on your
feelings. Then approach a third set of tracks and use the best of both
methods to come up with a percussion concept for the tracks.
Similarly, spend a lot of time with a metronome playing exactly in time
with it. Then spend time playing freely. See what you feel in both
situations. You need both of them. A combination of the thinking and
feeling functions helps to shape a good musician.
Q; I am interested in Turkish darbuka. If I am not
mistaken, the instrument you call "Egyptian tabla", is the same thing as
the one we call "Arabic (or sometimes Egyptian) darbuka". Although they
sound differently and the playing techniques are also different, the
materials you play with them are similar, at least the skeleton forms of
A; Yes. You are right. Not to be confused with the other Turkish
darabuka made from brass or thin metal and without the characteristic
curved edge. Also, the rhythms played on these drums have a lot of
Q; Why is darbuka played on one leg. I know it is
the traditional way, but is there a practical reason for it? The
position makes it much more difficult to play because it is not
symmetrical for the left and right hands. Why not simply putting it
between the knees and playing with both hands equally?
A; The technique of playing with the 'fixed' and 'non-fixed' hands is
the traditional position dating back many centuries. Part of the
mastering of the instrument is grappling with this position and the
difficulty of the fixed hand over the top. A lot of the way the rhythms
and techniques sound is dependent on this position. I also think it does
not look as dignified to see someone playing it between the knees.
Besides, having this fixed hand position is a stepping stone to
techniques on frame drums and req where you have to hold the drum with
one hand. I do not know for sure a definite answer to the question but I
would guess that the frame drum preceded the doumbek and therefore they
tried to emulate the feeling of the holding hand with this position???
Q; I would like to ask you is about the "finger
flicking method" for the Turkish darbuka you mention in one of your
articles. Can you give me some hint where to look for it?
A; Traditional Persian zarb technique will give you that. You can't do
it on a curved edge drum so easily.
Q; When I hold he darbuka the traditional way, I
cannot get the "tek" sound with my left hand as sharp as with my right
hand. Or even if I get it, it is not loud enough compared to the "dum"
and slap strokes.
A; You have to work for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours
and hours and hours to get them equal. The left hand can even get more
powerful because of the leverage. Both hands should be even.
Q; How do I develop the slap sound on darbuka/doumbek
A; It is not really that different from the slap on congas. Have you
seen there is a video of the slap stroke on my conga page. It takes well
over a year to get the sound and technique. It feels like the drum is
being hit with a kipper in the beginning but you have to keep on at it.
It will come. It is not about how hard you hit the drum. It is a knack
that is impossible to explain, even in person in a lesson. One day, it
just happens. It is a VERY important stroke on all Arabic drums.
Q; I'm an experienced drummer, but am looking to delve into electronics.
I have no experience in this matter, and don't ant to waste money on a
bad module my first time around. What products or route would you
A; Do you want a whole kit of pads or just to trigger a few samples to
augment your acoustic kit? For a whole kit I would advise d-drum. Def
the best, great sounds. Roland kits are fine but I don't like the
sounds. You could use that to trigger your own samples from another
sampler (S3000, aprox £125) via midi. To augment the acoustic kit I
would go for the SPDS Roland sampling pad. Delete all the sounds and put
your own in. If you do like Roland sounds the cheapest option would be
an spd20 or similar,
Q; Do you have any advice on how to develop
contacts and potential work as a percussionist?
A; Having a web site is a good starting point for putting your name out
there. There needs to be a lot of info on exactly what you play, who you
have played with etc. Have lots of audio etc and transmit a very clear
percussion message. Asside from that, mail out as many people as you can
manage to track down. Producers, musicians and studios etc. Expect a max
1% return on all these endevours and you won't be dissapointed. You
could get lucky with your first call. One thing is for sure, you need to
make it clear what you play, what gear you have got etc and also you
need a show reel to send out if you get a response.
Q; Where is the
best place to get a set of bongo's from and what one's would you
A; There are a number of large drum stores in London, Birmingham,
Newcastle, Leeds and most large cities in the UK. They may not be the
cheapest places but you can check them out and maybe buy on line. Even
buying from an american company like 123 music can work out cheaper,
even if you pick up a bit of duty when they come through customs.
Q; What should I look for when looking?
A; If you pay over £100 you should get a good set. Don’t buy budget
bongos because you will soon want to change them for better ones. If you
are buying second hand, check the shells are not split and that there
are no tears in the skins. Check that the nuts turn easily without
crossed threads and that there is no cracks in the rims etc.
Q; Is it better to get a set with natural skin?
A; Not necessarily. I am using the REMO drums at the moment which I am
getting on great guns with. Natural Bongo heads can be temperamental and
until you know what you are looking for, you could be dissapointed.
Q; I play the djembe but would like to put them
together with other drums to get more range of sound.
A; Sure. No limits. Djembe in the middle with congas around the front
and sides. Bongos could be there. Anything goes.
Q; What size bass drum, what heads, what damping &
how do you tune it please. It‘s the kind of sound I’d like to achieve.
I use a 20" bass drum without too much muting. A bit of foam 2" thick,
18" wide and as deep as the drum nestled in the bottom of the drum. Have
it tuned fairly slack. Sometimes I de tune one lug completely. This also
works great for a dead, non resonant snare. Crank it up really high then
de tune the lug furthest from you till there is a big crinkle in the
skin. If the lug buzzes then take it out totally.
Q; I want to get started with some drum
programming. How can I get started?
A; It is your lucky day matey. I have recently added a page
dealing with just that.
Q; Hi Pete,
thank-you for all the information on your web-site, it has really helped
me. Just would like to ask about where I could purchase the 14" shallow
floor tom with that deep bass sound?
A; I began by just chopping the top off of a 14" tom, about 10" deep.
Tune it low with a transparent pinstripe head,
Q; does one count or feel 16th triplets? for
example, if there is an eighth note combined with a 16th triplet? if it
is counted, how?
A; I always advise people to learn some basic Indian syllables for
counting. Even TAKITA for 3 and TAKADIME for 4 will halp you visualise
rhythms in time.
Q; we (my band)
play our tunes with a definite rock feel, even though there are no
guitars or bass in the group. i was looking to add some nice effects
with a couple different cymbals, gongs or bells now that things are more
"open" and audible due to less instrumentation. i think we'll eventually
add a keyboardist, but even then, the playing field will still be wide
open. I heard mikey currey (brian adams) play a riveted crash at a
recent show and it sounded amazing. the texture, resonance and sustain
were perfect. not sure what cymbal he used (might of been a "K" series
crash) and not sure how many rivets or what rivet alignment was used,
but that effect would work well in my band, especially on the ballads.
Also, is there something with a nice effect that I
could strike with a stick would be most practical. I do use mallets but
it's just not as frequent.
A; Try a sink chain or similar chain with small links. Make an 'O' at
one end and hang it over the wing nut that holds the cymbal centre. The
chain should hang over the edge slightly but experiment, both with
length and size of chain. This way you can take the chain off if you
don't want the rivet effect. Zil bells are cool bell like cymbals when
struck with a stick. This would be more appropriate than a burmese bell
which is really for percussionists. Zildjian also do some smaller gongs,
12" 14" which are cool. Try the new square flat gong if you want
something a little larger.
Q; After playing 35
years on the acoustic guitar I bought myself two 'congas'. I was eager
to learn how to play them so I found your website after a brief search
online. It is very well constructed and provides a lot of details on how
to play congas and other percussion instruments. Congratulations for
that! I added it to my favourites...But... I have some questions about
the names and the tuning of both drums. When I measure on top the
diameter of the skin, one drum measures 10,64 inches, the other one 9,64
inches. What are the proper names of each one? Up till now I tune the
large drum to a high F tone (the sound of the first string of a guitar
played on the first fret), and the small one to a high B (the sound of
the first string played on the seventh fret). I don't know if this
tuning is correct, but it has a fourth interval and sounds in harmony
with a lot of Bossa Nova tunes. My question is: how do I know how strong
I may tighten the drum skin? Is there a preferable kind of standard
tuning for congas?
A; Actually, it depends on tuning and the size of the other drums. If
you had say a smaller drum then that would be the quinto and the two you
have would be the conga and tumba. Conversely, it you had a larger drum
than these two then that would become the tumba. It is not just the
sizes, it is what role in the group or in your set up they take. That is
why I prefer to refer to them by tone, hi, mid, lo etc. Tuning really is
a matter of personal; taste, just so long as you get an even tuning set
up and are aware of the situations where you need to tune to a
particular note or pitch. You can also take them up pretty high,
even if you get some scary pops and cracks. Just be sure to
de-tune them afterwards.
Q; Mr.Pete, thank
you VERY MUCH for on-line lessons---they are fantastic!!!:-) How can be
a good player? I make practice every day 3-4 hours...I play conga
(Meinl-Woocraft) and before long I will buy tumba. Can you give me any
tips for play? What I have to do, etc..
A; Practice is important. Spend a lot of time listening to records and
trying to work out what the percussionist is playing. Analyse the sounds
and the rhythms they use. Find a way of writing it down and remembering
it. It is important to remember that percussion is not always about
being amazing technically. Quite often it is about finding the right
sound in the right place. If you can, find a teacher or get as many
tuition videos as possible. The Giavanni Hidalgo conga video is a very
Q; What do you use
to strike the Zildlian Burma bell and earth plates with?
A; You can use sticks but it is also good to use metal beaters of
different thicknesses for different effects. With sticks you can still
gain quite a few diffefent effects.
Q; Do you suspend the Zildjian earth plates?
A; Yes. Mine are drilled at both ends so I can tie them between two
stands so they are horizontal and you can strike them and ride them like
a cymbal. The burma bell comes with its own suspension system which
enables it to spin.
Q; Does the Zildjian gong sheet need to be
suspended or can it be struck horizontally or held? and what kind of
gong mallet would you recommend to be used on the sheet?
A; It really needs to be suspended from a sturdy stand. With a large
gong mallet you will get a deep gong resonant tone from it but you will
get special effects by striking it with anything.
Pete's new home page can be found here: