How To Play Djembe – Lesson 3 – The bass note

​The bass note on the djembe is the easiest note to play, so it's a great place for beginners to start.

The hand position is relatively simple and can be learned in a few minutes.

The ​secret to ​​the bass note is ​​​the control of your arms.

The arm provides the power and resonance to play the note and it also determines timing. If your arms are too tense when playing, you'll tire out quickly. If they're too loose, your notes will be weak and your timing may be off.

So let's take that one thing and get it right. This short lesson will teach you how to get the right balance while playing the easiest note.

​Keep in mind: Sit with the drum ​as described in ​Lesson 1: holding the drum​.


The djembe bass note is played in the center of the drum with the entire face of the hand. Keep your hand flat and fingers closed with the thumb slightly outstretched to form a V shape.

​Striking the Drum

Start with the hand only and inch or two above the face of the drum. Raise your arm another ​​10 inches or so and strike the center of the drum, allowing your hand to bounce off and return to the starting position.

Let gravity do the work​.

The weight of your arms should ​be enough to create ​most of the note. ​L​ift your ​arms nice and high - about a foot off the drum. ​

​Now, use a little of your arm strength to get a little more volume. This also helps to control the position - where you strike the drum.

Only a little strength is needed from the arms.​

​Keep in mind: ​​The palm of your hand should be flat. ​A little tension is needed to maintain this postition.

​Once you have tried this several times, repeat with the other hand.

Make sure:

  • You have space to move your elbows if needed
  • ​​Your ​wrists​ and forearms are relaxed ​yet flexible​
  • ​​Your hands ​are flat ​and your fingers are together

That's ​the ​essence of it.

What ​takes ​time to get ​right is the balance between ​relaxed and tense arm muscles, as well as maintaining good hand position for longer periods.

The Notation

​On the charts, a bass note is represented by a black circle, like this:

Bass note
Table of bass notes, hands and sounds

​The note ​has a different ​name depending on which hand is used​.

Bass Note Exercises

Exercise 1

Count slowly and evenly from 1 to 4 and play a bass note with the 1st hand on count 1 only. Rest for counts 2, 3 and 4 (don't play anything) and then go back to the beginning, making sure to keep even time between counts 4 and 1 (It's as if you're going on to 5).

Bass note exercies 1

​Exercise 2

Play a bass note with the 1st hand on count 1, rest on count 2, the bass note with the 2nd hand on count 3 and then rest on count 4.

Bass note exercise 2

​Exercise 3

Now alternate between 1st and 2nd hand on each count. Same thing, just quicker!

Bass note exercise 3

Exercise 4

Play 2 bass notes with one hand and 2 with the other.

Bass note exercise 4

Exercise 5

Play 3 with the 1st hand and 1 with the 2nd hand.

Bass note exercise 5

Exercise 6

Same as above, but with opposite hands.

Bass note exercise 6

Exercise 7

Play one bass with the 1st hand, rest for one, then three basses on successive beats with alternating hands, starting with the 1st hand.

Bass note exercise 7

Exercise 8

Bass note exercise 8

That should give you a good understanding of the djembe bass note and a few simple rhythms to get you started.

Now move on to​...

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