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How to... Setup your djembe circle

Written by Andy Gleadhill19/07/23

Chamberlain Music offers a range of djembes from key brands including the lightweight Slap Djembe by Percussion Plus models, Toca Freestyle models in rope tuned and nesting options, Percussion Workshop Kente mahogany instruments as well as the Percussion Plus Honestly Made Ghanaian rope tuned wooden djembes. The choice of size and instrument materials will depend on each school’s requirements for the drums. We also offer a selection of djembe packs – a great way to kit out your djembe group with all the instruments you need.

Choosing your djembe

Djembes are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including rope-tuned, pre-tuned, and mechanically tuned models. The method used to adjust the tension of the drumhead and tune the instrument differs. Each method has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The three types of tuning systems are as follows:

Rope tuned djembes

Rope-tuned djembes are characterised by a system of vertical ropes that run along the drum’s body and are attached to the drumhead. To tune the djembe, the ropes are tightened or loosened by pulling them vertically or horizontally, thereby adjusting the tension on the drumhead. Rope-tuning is the traditional way to tune a djembe. This process requires manual adjustment and skill to achieve the desired pitch.


  • Allows for precise tuning and fine adjustments to achieve desired tones.
  • Offers a traditional and authentic tuning method used in African cultures.
  • Provides flexibility in tuning for different playing styles and preferences.


  • Tuning a rope-tuned djembe requires some practice and knowledge.
  • It may take more time to tune compared to other methods.
  • Rope tension can loosen over time and may require occasional readjustment

Pre-tuned djembes

Pre-tuned djembes come with a fixed tension on the drumhead that is set during the manufacturing process. These djembes are usually tuned to a specific pitch and do not require further tuning by the player. The tension is typically maintained through a hoop or ring system that secures the drumhead to the drum’s body.


  • Convenient and ready to play right out of the box.
  • No need for manual tuning, making it even more suitable for beginners.
  • Consistent sound and pitch across multiple drums of the same model.


  • Limited adjustability as the tension is predetermined.
  • Not ideal for players that wish to customise the sound of their drum by altering tone and pitch.
  • May lack the traditional tuning method found in rope-tuned djembes.

Mechanically tuned djembes

Mechanically tuned djembes feature a system of bolts or lug screws placed around the drum’s circumference. These bolts or screws are used to adjust the tension of the drumhead. Turning the bolts clockwise tightens the head, while turning them counterclockwise loosens the tension. The bolts are typically attached to a metal or plastic ring that holds the drumhead in place.


  • Allows for quick and easy tuning adjustments without the need for specialised knowledge or skills.
  • Offers a wide range of tonal possibilities by adjusting the tension of individual lugs.
  • Tension can be evenly distributed, resulting in balanced tones across the drumhead.


  • Mechanically tuned djembes may not provide the same traditional feel as rope-tuned instruments.
  • These require more maintenance than pre-tuned instruments as heads may need to be retuned occasionally.

Ultimately, the choice between rope-tuned, pre-tuned, and mechanically-tuned djembe depends on personal preference, playing style, and the level of control and customisation desired by the player. Each tuning system has its own unique characteristics and considerations that can impact the sound, tuning process, and overall playing experience.

Why the djembe?

Because of its simplicity, adaptability, affordability, and broad availability, the djembe, a West African drum, has grown in popularity as a musical instrument. The word "djembe" translates to "gather together" in several African languages, reflecting the instrument's significance in bringing people together via song.

Learning the djembe offers numerous benefits that extend beyond music education. Firstly, it promotes cultural appreciation and understanding by exposing students to the rich heritage of West African rhythms and traditions. It encourages a sense of inclusivity and respect for diverse cultures, fostering a more global perspective.

Furthermore, playing the djembe in school improves teamwork and collaboration abilities by teaching pupils to listen, communicate, and synchronise their rhythms with others. It promotes a positive social environment by instilling a strong sense of community and cooperation. Furthermore, learning to play the djembe increases coordination, motor abilities, and rhythmical awareness, all of which promote general cognitive development.

It also allows students to express themselves and be creative, helping them to discover their musical skills and build a lifelong passion of playing percussion instruments. In general, adding the djembe into the educational curriculum broadens students' cultural awareness, builds teamwork, improves cognitive capacities, and fosters a love of music.

Chamberlain Music offers a range of invaluable resources for educators, including the Andy Gleadhill Slap Djembe book, featuring 12 traditional rhythms from all corners of the globe. Using an accessible notation, even if you have never taught music before it provides lesson plans and instructions for you and your djembe group.