How To Play Djembe – Lesson 4 – The tone note

Djembe lesson 4 - the tone note

The Tone Note

In this lesson we look at playing the tone note.

Yeah, I know, it's confusing. The middle note on the djembe is called a tone. It doesn't refer to the sound quality or pitch, it's just the name of the note played on the edge of the drum.

The tone is the most common note played on the djembe. It's a core skill and it is crucial you get it right if you want ​to improve.

Luckily, it's not that hard, but there are some dos and don'ts.

In this lesson we dive into getting a solid tone. You'll be playing it twice as much as any other note, so this is important.

Getting Good Tone

The tone is played on the edge of the drum with only the fingers.

Tone hand position

​Striking The Drum

  • ​Line up your hands on the edge of the drum, with your knuckles just outside the rim, see ​pic above.
  • ​Keep your hand flat and fingers closed. ​​Kee​p your wrists and elbows flexible.
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    In one fluid movement, raise ​your hand a​bout 6 inches and bring it back down​ to ​strike the drum. ​Let your hand bounce back ​off the drum ​skin.
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    ​Repeat with the other hand.

​The note should be clearly defined and consistent (i.e. you should have control). It should have more wrist action that the bass note.

What Not To Do

T​his is a mistake I see people make all the time​.​ It's a response beginners often have to the discomfort felt after playing the drum for a while. 

Their tone hand position slips a little and they tend to play​ with the tips of their fingers. 

You lose a lot of the ​resonance of the note and it becomes higher pitched.

So remember to be conscious of this and always try to use the full length of your fingers when playing a tone. 

Some discomfort is to be expected. It's how you improve. ​It's worth it.

Plus, you'll ​have an excuse to try some of the cool things in our post on relieving sore hands from playing.

Let's crack on.

The Notes

On the notation chart, a tone note is represented by a black ring, like this: 

Tone symbol

The Words

The words used are either 'go' (pronounced like the start of 'Gordon') or 'do' (like the start of 'door') depending on which hand it is played with.

'Go' is played with the 1st hand, 'do' is played with the 2nd hand. See below.

Djembe tone note

Tone Note Exercises

Exercise 1

Count slowly and evenly from 1 to 4 and play a tone with one 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).

Djembe tone exercise 1

Exercise 2

Play a tone with one hand on count 1, rest on count 2, a tone with the other hand on count 3 and then rest on count 4.

Djembe tone exercise 2

Exercise 3

Now alternate between each hand on each count.

Djembe tone exercise 3


Exercise 4

Play 2 tones with one hand and 2 with the other.

Djembe tone exercise 4

Exercise 5

Play 3 tones with one hand and 1 with the other.

Djembe tone exercise 5

Exercise 6

Same as above, but with opposite hands.

Djembe tone exercise 6

Exercise 7

Play one tone with one hand, rest for one, then three tones on successive beats with alternating hands, starting with the black hand.

Djembe tone exercise 7

Exercise 8

Djembe tone exercise 8

Great stuff! ​Move on to​...

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