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Old 05-03-2006, 03:44 AM
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MEL MEL is offline
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: somewhere in the forests of Poland
Posts: 77

Originally Posted by tcl1627
Does anyone know of any good books or dvd's on conga playing?
The Tomas Cruz series (books w/ DVDs included, from Mel Bay, available at is excellent for learning conga parts for Salsa, Latin Jazz, etc. and is the only source I know of if you want to learn the newer timba "gears" (in the third book of the series). Tomas is one of the better Cuban congueros of his generation, and the DVDs let you watch his technique and play along. What's especially nice is that many of the play alongs are first built up stroke by stroke in one DVD chapter at a very slow tempo, then played in their entirety at a reasonable tempo for a beginner in the next, so you can hear what they should sound like. His co-writers do a good job of making everything clear. The books include exercises, rhythms, examples of "recursos" (short solos/fills), Tomas' listening suggestions, and in the third book, a concise explanation of how to "think musically" and play the different "gears" in the new timba genre of salsa, which made sense to me when I read it, although I haven't actually tried it out yet -- I'm starting on the second book (and timba pickup bands are few and far between here). Everything is taught in clave when applicable on the DVDs, which is important if you are going to be playing Afro-Cuban music. Although you don't need to read music to follow the books, if you do you will find the notation system (from Cuba) to be a real plus. It uses different kinds of note heads (I think that's what they're called) for the different strokes. Their system is much clearer than that in other books like Poncho Sanchez's and Rudy Gajate-Garcia's, where you constantly have to look down to see the letters that they have written under the staff to understand which stroke you are supposed to be playing, something which has always bothered me about those books. (5 stars)

Two other books that I highly recommend are Conga Drumming and Hip Grooves for Hand Drums, both available from or direct from the authors at These books are well written in a conversational style, have excellent explanations of how to make all of the different strokes and play the rhythms, and come with CDs. They use the authors own version of "rhythm box" notation which is VERY clear and easy to follow (even if you don't read music). Conga Drumming is more for playing congas in traditional Afro-Cuban percussion ensembles (rumba, bembe, and similar styles) while Hip Grooves teaches a bunch of beats and rhythms applicable in a wide variety of genres. The Dancing Hand's Conga Drumming DVD has a fun, encouraging, friendly feel, but is basically just to complement the book -- it doesn't have that much information and the book breaks things down for you much better. (5 stars for the books, 4 for the DVD)

Bobby Sanabria's videos are pretty clear, and a lot of other people speak highly of them, but they're only available on VHS, which means backing up to go over something again is a pain. (4 stars)

Giovanni Hidalgo's Conga Virtuoso DVD has some nice solos, and he explains some common rhythms and how how he uses rudiments in his playing, but it will be easier to learn technique and rhythms from the above books/DVDs. Giovanni's explanations are not the clearest and he plays so fast at times that his hands are a blur. Put off buying this one for later. (3 stars)

I have hardly used Poncho Sanchez's book. The others had nicer layouts and were just easier to get into. He doesn't seem to offer anything that is not done better somewhere else. (1 star)

Rudy Gajate-Garcia talks about how to work with drummers, something that is not in the other books, but for me it's not worth the price of the book (I can summarize what he says in one sentence: your job is NOT to lay down the backbeat, so lay off the slaps on two and four, and focus on complementing the drummer's rhythm). Other than that, I think that the Dancing Hands and Tomas Cruz books do a better job with everything, so go with them. (3 stars)

Last edited by MEL; 05-03-2006 at 04:23 AM. Reason: adding more information about other titles
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