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8. First Steps

Anyone can learn basic conga technique. It just takes a little time, patience and practice. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t sound like a master conguero in a few weeks. Stick with it and your skills will grow as you develop the muscle memory that’s required to play without effort.

The most important strokes for playing the congas are:

1. Bass (= B).

This is the deepest note of the conga.
To create this tone hit the drum with your palm in the centre of the drumhead. This will produce a low, muffled sound. This may be varied by quickly moving the hand back off the head for a longer tone.

2. Open tone (= O).

The basic sound of each conga is clearly heard using this technique. Using the first four fingers strike the outside edge of the head quickly as if slapping a hot pan on a stove. This will produce a clear pitch with a resonant tone.

3. Closed slap (= S).

The closed slap is played by slapping the fingers against the head and allowing it to rest there briefly. The other hand may also rest on the head to muffle the drum more.

4. Open slap (= OS).

The open slap is the loudest note of the conga and is used frequently during solos for its bright, cutting timbre. To play the closed slap, use only the fingertips and slap the drum very briefly to create a penetrating note.

5. Heel (= H).

The heel is played by dropping the heel of the palm onto the drumhead creating a soft, muffled tone that’s often used between other notes.

6. Tap (= T).

The tap is another quiet technique but has a higher pitch than the heel and is also used to fill the breaks between other techniques along with the heel. To play taps let your fingers rise from the heel position and strike the drum from a low height.
Heel-toe rolls may be played by rapidly alternating heel strokes and taps.

One very common Conga Pattern is the tumbao:
I   II    III   IV    Beat
1+2+3+4+ 1+2+3+4+ Counting of the eigth´s
HTSTHTOO HTS  TOO Hits conga
            OO    Hits tumba
LLRLLLRR LLRRRLRR Sticking
The Tumbao is normally played to the 2-3 Son Clave
I   II    III   IV    Beat
1+2+3+4+ 1+2+3+4+ Counting of the eigth´s
  X X    X  X  X  Hits
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