How and when to tune your djembe

Tuning djembe at DrumConnection is Jess Smith.

1. Determine if your drum needs tuning.  If the slap tone is not crisp and dry, but rather- very ringy and indistinguishable from the open tone, then a tune up is in order.

2. Undo the excess cord wrapped around your drum.  If you didn’t get any excess cord, you can add a piece by putting a knot in the end of the desired additional length and threading it under the existing weave until the knot at the end catches firmly. (You may or may not attach it to the other rope.) I prefer to lay the new rope next to the existing rope and continue to thread the new rope as usual. You may remove the knot after a few pulls.

3. Locate the next vertical cords which are not already crossed.

4. Take the loose end of your tuning rope and place it over the next pair of uncrossed ropes, moving to the right or left, as the case may be.

5. Now, reverse the direction of the tuning cord going under #2 and back between them. Wrapping the cord half-way around cord #2 to reverse direction, and then down over cord #1, then back under both passing #1 and#2.  That’s the weave.

6. You should see a figure 'S' shape. Take the loose long end and slide it under the lower bump of the 'S' between the rope and the shell.

7. Push all of the knot 'as is' down toward the stem of the drum.

8. Now 'pull' the drum by stepping on the loose end of the rope with the drum standing upright to your left. Put your left palm on the head of the drum. Use the instep of your right foot and gently, smoothly step on the rope till the 2 ropes cross each other. Give it another step to get the pull flat to the drum as much as possible. This keeps an even line as the rope wraps around the drum. This is the fastest and cleanest method of tightening a djembe I have ever seen. I developed it in 1998 when I didn't have my 'pulller device' with me and my friend Mateja said, 'You don't need it' so I used my shoe and my foot and leg!

9. That’s it! It may take a few pulls to notice any difference in tone. Stop when the sound is right for you. You only put in as many pulls as needed and do not complete a row (going around the drum) unless the sound of your drum dictates. I often put in only 1 flip. Sometimes 2 or 3. Sometimes if the drum really hasn't been tuned ever or in years, it may take about 12 - 20 flips to get the sound right. You may also put your thumb firmly on the center of the head and push. If it gives a lot, you may pull your drum. If it hardly moves, then you should probably not pull your drum without a professional around.


Starting a new horizontal row: (or #10.)

In  order to create the “Diamond” pattern of alternating knots with each row, you don't want to continue to simply spiral your rope around the drum. Instead, you want to meet up with the beginning of the row your are ending by going underneath the first knot and then reverse direction. If you were crossing close together pairs on that row, you will now be crossing far apart pairs for the next row. This way you get a diamond shape rope design that is strong, 'correct' and pleasing to the eye.

11.  Test the drum with a tap before each pull. As soon as it is high enough, STOP! Otherwise, you will choke the resonance of the head. Of course, really cranking the tension could split the head but try not too worry...this is fairly rare.

12. Go play your beautiful drum!