Switching to hand drums


Senior Member
What are your opinions on drumset players doing one-off gigs on cajon, djembe or other traditional hand drums? This is something I get asked to do a lot and I've always shied away from it. I reckon as a drummer I'd have a head-start on learning these instruments, but it would still take work to get my playing up to a good standard. It's like asking a guitarist to play bass, lots of people can cross over but it but it takes a lot of practice and a new approach to do it well.


Platinum Member
Are these the sort of gigs that require you to play hand percussion in a more traditional sense? Or more contemporary styled gigs requiring banging out rhythms on a djembe (or cajon....or conga) with an acoustic duo or the like?


Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
One friend here in Tampa has been a drum set player for years, but he has two or three groups that he plays hand percussion with. He has a cajon with a foot pedal for the bass drum, varied percussion pieces, tambourine, claves, etc. and he plays a couple of different cajon snares, including the one I made and gave to him. I would say he probably does 50/50 drum set/percussion gigs. He takes the work as it comes and stays very busy. 20 gigs in May and he has a full time job. If the percussion gigs don't interfere with your normal band gigs, I say go for it.


Platinum Member
More contemporary music with acoustic guitar than anything else.
Do it.

I had a ball playing gigs with an acoustic duo with just a djembe (or conga on some occasions).

My playing would never have cut it in a more traditional setting. But merely laying down rhythms that more or less just mimic a drum kit, under a couple of vocalists with guitars, was easy enough to pull off with a level of conviction that was enough to have people entertained, us paid and more importantly, called back again.

Easiest load ins I ever did too. The joy of carrying one drum and a mic stand was never lost on me. The 'dollar to shit hauled' ratio is a real treat!!


Platinum Member
Yup, I've done it A LOT. I used to do a lot of Christian-based acoustic rock back in the 90s, and we used to play a boatload of coffee shops, churches, and other venues that would shriek at the site of a drum set. It can be a lot of fun, but there's technique to be learned. It's not that bad though.

Everyone has been going crazy of cajones over the past decade or so, but I'm still a big fan of the djembe, preferably those Remo Mondo series that can be tuned with a drum key. They are really well made, and if you can find one used locally, they can be had for a fraction of original price.


Junior Member
I've been asked to play percussion with a friend's band and also to switch to something 'quiet' with my own band for a venue that was concerned about noise. I've seen a lot of other people do it and do it well... but personally I am RUBBISH at it. Hand percussion is a different skill completely to playing with sticks and one that I, at least, find I don't take to easily. I am working on basic conga playing but I wouldn't trust myself out in public until I've put in a lot more hours than I can currently find time for.

Of course, if you have some talent and natural ability, you may do much better


Senior Member
Yeah I turned down a chance to play with some really cool guys over this issue. I just didn't want to BS it, I've seen so many guys doing that and it just sounded so flimsy and uninspired (to my ear).

But not without some consideration, I devoted a couple of my ongoing lessons to it and yes there are some basic techniques that you really need if you want to sound decent, like the slap for instance.

In the end I decided I didn't want to take time away from the primary goal of getting my sticks to rebound correctly, I have two other groups I play with that are suffering in silence waiting for me to get that act together, haha


Platinum Member
I've grown to think of it as a fun alternative. But it really doesn't scratch my itch for drum set playing. What annoys me a little bit is the lack of appreciation from the rest of the band for how different playing hand drums is. Very little of what we spend all our time on playing drum set—stick control, rudiments, orchestration—translates to hand drums.

I wish I could think of a good analogy for other instruments to get that point across. I tried to explain it to a guitar player the other day by asking how he'd feel about playing a gig with a guitar that had keys instead of strings. But that's probably not the best comparison. I'm open to better suggestions.