About this chapter

This chapter introduces the fundaments of playing the djembe. Please note that understanding and mastering the basics will lay a solid ground for your further development. It is recommended to thoroughly study this chapter before proceeding to the next chapters. The loop section will allow you to practice with your instrument.

Learning outcomes:

-learn a good playing position 

-learn to play and pronounce the strokes 

-learn precise hand placement for the strokes

-learn to keep pulse with your feet 

-learn a flam stroke

-learn the three basic calls

-learn to lead with both hands

Sticking and leading

Sticking is the process in which we assign individual notes to either our left or right hand. Even though the djembe is not played with sticks, this term will be used in Kalanso because it is familiar to many drummers. There are different types of sticking. The most common sticking for djembe, alternate sticking, means a hand-to-hand pattern that can begin with either the right or left hand. Double sticking happens when two consecutive notes are played with the same hand. Some patterns combine both alternate and double sticking; this is called combination sticking. Both hands can start or lead the sticking. It is recommended to learn to lead with both hands.


When playing a call or a variation, it is recommended to use a sticking that allows you to "land" on the correct hand. That helps you to keep the rhythmic flow and avoid doing unwanted double strokes.

The importance of technique

It takes a lot of effort to master the correct playing technique. It is recommended to consult a  qualified instructor frequently when you are learning the technique. Feedback from an experienced teacher can save you hours of work. Producing clear notes will make your playing sound more melodic. Even the simplest accompaniment can sound very good when the technique is right. A wrong technique can lead to playing too loud, which is not good for the music, and will hurt your hands in the long run.

The djembe

 It is recommended to practice with a good djembe, as it will resonate easily. That will result in effortless and relaxed playing and help you find the right sounds. Please note that a good playing position and the correct height of djembe are fundamental for good technique. For adults, a suitable height of the drum is about 65cm or (25.5). The head diameter should not be less than 30cm (12 inches). The bigger the diameter of the drum is, the easier it is to learn the correct technique.


Check the 9-step “The efficient way to learn with Kalanso” below, and apply it. Start learning with the LOOP-section. If You are new to djembe, it´s recommended to start with the 50% slowed down clips. 

If you are new to djembe, your hands may hurt after practicing. That is most often due to wrong hand position, playing too hard, playing too long periods at a time, and hitting the drum’s rim by mistake. When Your hand placement is correct, and you don´t use too much force, playing the djembe should not hurt Your hands at all.

The efficient way to learn with Kalanso:

  • Concentrate on one chapter at a time. Start from the first clip, even if you are an experienced player. Repeat the following steps in each chapter.
  • Learn and sing the rhythms in the ”drum language,” using the syllables.
  • Write down the rhythm in your notebook and study the attached sheet music.
  • Take the material to a place where You can practice with Your djembe and start learning with the video. The LOOP-section allows You to learn all the elements one by one. Play in a slow tempo at first. There are slowed down versions of the parts for this purpose. 
  • Make sure to play each stroke as well as you can. Your goal is to play with great sound. Learning the strokes takes a lot of effort, and your sound will develop over time. Put the hours to it and stay patient.
  • Each loop lasts for about a minute. Continue playing after the loop stops, now listening carefully to your sound.
  • Start to learn the parts by heart, one by one. Remembering what’s coming up next will allow You to relax and breathe while you play—eventually opening up Your focus to other things, like your sound and groove. 
  • Now that you can memorize and play the parts without the support from your notebook or the video proceed to the Play along version and try to memorize the structure of the exercise. 
  • The last step is to build up the tempo gradually. Using a metronome will help You to keep in time and follow your progress. You can also use the LOOP-section for this purpose. Remember that a fast tempo is always less important than the quality of sound.

Complete and Continue