How to Tune a Djembe

Learn how to tune a djembe from the musicians at Wula Drum in this Howcast video.

OK. I’m going to show you some quick tips on how to tune your djembe. These are for rope tuned djembes.

The first thing you’ve got to look is at each strand you’re counting as one, so you’re going to make a weaving pattern. This is one. This is two. You’re going to take your chord, and you’re going to go under two, under this one, under this one, and then you’re going to pull it across. What we’re going to do is weave these two so that we can tighten them by flipping them, and this brings the ring down and tightens your drum.

You just want to tighten your drum until you like it. Don’t overtighten, because you can pop the skin, and you don’t have to tighten into a specific pitch. So I take the strand. If it’s too hard for your fingers, you can get a screwdriver or something. I just kind of push it under. It is under one. I go to the second one. Under two. I pull through. Sometimes I put my foot on the drum. It’s OK. Here’s under two. Now you’ll see the chord is under two strands, one, two. We’re not quite done. We go under two, over one, under one, so we weave back. Under two, over one, under one, like this.

Try to keep the chord straight, and you’ll see now that as I start to pull this, I’m pulling those two pieces of rope closer together. Sometimes if the drum is tight, you want to use something like a stick or a mountain climbing cleat to grab the rope if it’s really hard to pull. It depends on where you are in tuning the drum. I like to take a stick. I put it over the rope, I go around, and then I turn it, and I do figure eights. This will lock the stick in place. You see? Then, using my feet, I’m going to pull until it flips over. You see? And this is going to tighten your drum.

Now, just to make sure it stays, I start the next sequence. I go under the rope just like that, I pull it through, keep it low, and this will help lock it. See? The tension here is holding this rope so it doesn’t unsnap. And then you want to check the skin and make sure you’re not overtightening. But these are some tips on how to tune your djembe.