Conga Basics

Conga Basics

Conga is the general name for the instrument and also the name of the middle or main drum. Each conga drum has a different name. There are three main sizes of conga drums. The smallest is called the quinto and has a head size of 11″. The conga is the middle size and has a head size of 11.75″. The largest conga drum is called the tumba and it has a head size of 12.5″. Each of these drums have other names such as primo, segundo, tres golpes, tumbadora, salidor, etc. The list goes on with other names. There are also other sizes available and even a couple other drums that are not as common. Those other drum sizes are sometimes 9.75″, called the requinto, and 14″, called the super tumba.

Congas are made out of wood or fiberglass. Some of the woods used to make congas are oak, rubber wood, cherry, ash, etc. The wood drums are more traditional in sound and warmer in tone. The fiberglass are more resistant to the weather and have more projection as well as being brighter in tone. Rims on the drums are usually curved to prevent hand fatigue. Traditional rims are not curved and are set closer to the wood bearing edge.

In order to play the congas there are some different tones to learn. The basic tones are the open tone, the slap tone, the bass tone, the heel tone, and the toe tone. One should study with an instructor to learn the tones properly so as to not damage one’s hands. The most commonly used pattern, which can be utilized in a vast number of styles of music is called the tumbaó. The entire tumbaó pattern is written with eighth notes. The feel and time signature can be changed to fit different genres of music. The pattern is most commonly written in the time signatures of 4/4 and 2/2. The pattern is as follows:

Hands L-L-R-L-L-L-R-R

H = heel tone
T = toe tone
S = slap tone
O = open tone
L = left hand
R = right hand

The above pattern, as previously stated, is the most common. There are many more possible variations. Experiment with adding multiple drums into the pattern, other rhythms, different tones, different order of tones, a different feel (like swinging it), etc. Be creative and have fun.

– Meg Thomas

Meg Thomas Bio
Meg Thomas Headshot B-W 3.5MBDrummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, Latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum and Percussion Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions, performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases.

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