Moving from drum set to Congas - part time


Gold Member
Without going into a lot of detail here, the worship leader at my church asked if I was keen on allowing another drummer - new to the church - to switch off with me every other Sunday. It's one of the assoc pastor's friends who needs a church home and wants to get back into drumming.

The bait is that she wants to start using percusson - congas, djembes, shakers, tamborines, etc. in the worship sevice for a varied sound and wanted me to switch off on drumset every other Sunday by playing persussion. A lot of "pleases" went with the bait. LOL Further baiting is that if I need a break from the grueling 7:30 am rehearsal call every Sunday that I could opt out and not play - thereby arriving at the normal time for services.

Her master plan is to have a bullpen of rotating musicians that play every week in order to give us original members who have been doing this for over a year non-stop a break every other weekend and to allow others with music talents to play and serve.

So being the nice and accomodating chap I am, I said..."SURE!"

The only downsides I see are 1) hauling my djembe's around and other percussion toys, and 2) I've never met this other drummer, but have to take it on faith he's a good guy.

(I need to add here that the only other time I switched off with another drummer regularly was way back in school and it didn't go well - in other words a very bad experience because this other drummer way back then was a complete and total egotistical jerk about eveyrthing and tried to be "the boss" - enough for me to convince myself that I didn't want to be around musicians like this, so I studied business at university instead of music. So....I'm a bit apprehensive.....)

But my question to the forum (sorry to be longwinded), is this: What are some good Conga books? Or to be more precise, any good books on playing Tumbadoras?

I'm a fairly good Djembe player, so I'm thinking maybe the princples of striking the heads and making the various sounds on the Tumbadoras are somewhat similar?


Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
Hey Rogue:

Actually, I think I would much prefer playing percussion to a set of drums.
If I were asked to play with a band and given the choice of playing a set of drums, or playing misc. percussion i.e. Conga, Timbales. Bongos, Cow Bells, Tambourine, Gong, Etc. Etc.,
I would pick percussion.

It seems to me that you could be more expressive and add more color to a song using percussion instruments. As long as you are playing with a good groove drummer.
I think it could be more fun accenting after beats and creating counter rhythms.



I play drums and congas. I have a set of three professional congas; 12 inch, 11.75 inch, and 10.5 inch, approximately.

The congas are totally different from a regular drum set.

I started out playing bongo drums when I was about 14. I worked on my rhythms and techniques and they came to me quickly and I had the hang of it; producing some cool sounds, and getting into the groove most of the time.

I developed my drumming skills into regular drum kits and then bought a nice set of congas.

The congas are really a mind blowing experience, actually, for me. You can do all kinds of things with them with different hand techniques. You can smack the conga rim or center and hold your hand on the skin for a certain sound. You can lay part of one hand on the head and hit with your other hand and get another sound. Of course you can play straight out striking the edges just over the wooden shells and this is where most of my playing takes place.

I used to play them in church too. Being a relatively quiet and restrained musical atmosphere during a lot of the songs, it is possible to play the congas by just tapping your fingers on the heads, even alternating fingers on the same hand to get a quiet but complex sound that blends in where it would be almost impossible to get into the songs with the regular drum kit.

Another thing too is that not many people can really play congas very well, in one place, at one time; so if you develop your conga skills, no one will be able to come close to you when it comes to playing them - such as the other drummer.

Having your own set of congas at home would help a lot, but they can be costly. I have three as I mentioned and each sits in a "basket" stand, rather than on the tripod conga stand that most two conga sets use. I definitely recommend getting congas that are in the standard professional sizes because of head availability. My congas have real Buffalo hide heads. One conga replacement head can cost you easily well over fifty dollars, and some of the cheaper congas are very limited in the heads you can buy because they are not made in the standard professional sizes and sometimes even have proprietary heads that you have to buy from them only.

A story about conga drumming, and probably about all drumming, historically or pre-historically, explains something of the religious or spiritual essence of conga drumming and I find it interesting.

Pre-historic Indians and other culture groups, as you know, have played drums deep into the past. Playing the drums by hand had special spiritual significance. Many of these culture groups believed that the animals, for instance Buffalo's, were part of God or had some direct relationship to God. When the Buffalo's hide was stretched over the drum and tuned to the note, this sound was supposed to be able to communicate with God. When the skin of the head (Buffalo skin) was hit by the skin of the human hand, the interaction of the two skins produced a note - skin on skin - that was believed to enable them to communicate with God. It is the skin on skin concept and represented the holy hand of the drummer hitting the drum covered with the skin of the holy animal (Buffalo). This was an integral part of many spiritual ceremonies of many culture groups.

This belief is still held today by many drummers, including conga drummers. The skin on skin idea is a strong spiritual belief. Many drummers are unaware of this tradition and don't care about it even if they have heard about it; but some know about it and hold the ideas close to their heart and soul. One of the main problems today is that it can be difficult and expensive to find real animal hide drum heads. Some places will replace a broken conga head by hand from pre-cut sheets of Buffalo hide. Even some players do this themselves and it involves buying the pre-cut sheets and soaking them until they are soft and then stretching and shaping them properly over the shells and seating the rims.

I never let anyone hit my congas with anything but their hands and I have not let very many people touch my conga's to begin with, and only under my direct supervision.

I have not provided you with any sources for instructional materials, but I encourage you to personally practice playing the conga's in your favorite way; jamming to cd's or the songs you intend to play. Pretty soon you will develop your own rhythms and sounds, and you will be well on your way to being an awesome conga player.

I hope this helps you develop your conga playing skills and adds depth to your idea of what is going on with them. I realize that some religious groups do not recognize any spiritual value to the skin on skin idea, and that they do not recognize any relationship between humans, animals, and God; as in communicating with God by playing animal skin drum heads with your hands. The story is only informational and not intended to infringe on anyone's individual religious freedoms or rights.


Pioneer Member
I would look more for youtube videos than books, particularly for contemporary applications of congas. Learn a standard tumbao, and maybe some mozambique, or comparsa accompaniments. Those three will pretty much plug into anything in 4/4 time, and lock in automatically with anything a drummer will be playing.

Tune the drums well, and learn decent technique. Don't buy cheap congas.

As far as head selection goes, it is actually pretty easy to find buffalo heads pre-stretched and fitted for the standard dimensions. If you get into heading your own drums, again look to youtube. Heading congas is infinitely easier than djembes.

I'm a bit hesitant to comment on the religious aspect of these drums, because the real history of African diaspora music (particularly drumming) conflicts with any notion of monotheistic religion, and in fact has its roots in Ifa, a pantheistic Yoruban religion which morphed into Santeria when it made it's way to the Carribbean. That's a rabbit hole that you probably don't want to go down if you're playing in a Jesus church. Let's just say that the "congas" are really pretty secular instruments but they do have roots that are deeper and older than Christianity. Not to say that is a good or bad thing.
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Silver Member
Learning to play congas will only help you in the long run. You can then apply the hand techniques to your snare drum if you ever choose to. I play hands, sticks and brushes on my snare and it was playing congas that got me going with the hand drums in general.