Jul 28


In this week’s review I am going to look at something a little bit different but it is a little bit close to my heart because it is a Drum called a Djembe. A Djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands and the name comes from the African saying “Everyone gather together in peace”. It is traditionally only played by men but there are many great female drummers and percussionist out there today who I am sure would love to have a go on one of these. Djembes have become extremely popular since the 90s with the craze of Drum Circles which are basically a group of people playing hand-drums and percussion. There are many types available in different sizes and exotic colours. I am reviewing the Toca Synergy Freestyle 10 inch Djembe.


The Toca Synergy Freestyle 10 inch Djembe came out in 2005. Toca World Percussion is a brand owned by the Kaman Music Corporation from Bloomfield, Connecticut. They own a number of subsidiaries and brands in the music industry and are the biggest independent distributor of musical instruments and accessories in the United States. Today, Toca has become a leading brand in the hand drum and percussion market. Karman Music state they are committed to always offering the player a distinctive choice in style, design, and sound.


Straight out of the box and ready for action you have this gorgeous Woodstock purple and blue drum, laced with black alpine rope and topped by an authentic-looking Toca off-white Goatskin head. It is very lightweight and appears to have a durable synthetic shell with a protective rubber bottom. It’s the sort of thing that is just over 18 inches high and 11 inches wide that would look great in the corner of your lounge as a ‘talking point’ begging to be played. It comes with a very tiny manual attached to the rope but it does provide very useful information on care, maintenance, tuning and practice tips. The goatskin head is tensioned with alpine rope that produces rich bass tones and sharp piercing rim tones.


One of Toca’s advertising logo says “Just Play”. I may have some drum skills but playing a Djembe is a different ball game altogether. Apparently as a starting point, I need to learn how to produce three different sounds from it; Bass, Tone and Slap which provide you with Low, Medium and High Pitch. It is said that professional Djembe players can produce up to 25 different sounds with their skilled techniques. I think I will concentrate on the three for now. The 10 inch I played was also surprisingly loud and I am sure that its design is to be clearly heard over other instruments.


The Bass sound will obviously be determined by the size and shape of the shell and many of them have a frequency range of around 65 to 80 Hz. To make the bass sound, I need to strike the drum with my palm and flat fingers near the centre of the drum head. That seems easy enough and as I try it on the Toca Djembe, it gives a lovely warm pad-like bass tone that has some sustain under the sound of your hands hitting the head. I think I need to practice with each hand and try to achieve the same sound in each hand moving my hands straight up and down so they are even. Well that’s a good start but what about medium pitches?


The Medium ‘Tone‘on a Djembe has a frequency range that varies on different models but is usually between 300 Hz to 420 Hz. If I wish to produce a ‘Tone’ which has medium pitch, I need to use most of the area of my fingers and the edge of my palm hitting the drum head. To understand this, you may have already noticed that the more you move away from the centre of the drum, the higher the pitch. I found that if I placed my hands on the drum and created a triangle so that the top of my forth finger on my left hand was almost touching the first finger of my right hand and my thumbs were not touching the head at all. This was the best position to get a medium pitch and I discovered that I could use my wrists a bit more than I could on the Bass tone. The Toca produced a lovely hollow tone in this position which perfectly contrasted with the Bass Tone.


This higher frequency is normally between 470 Hz and 670 Hz and if you learn to do this properly you might also add in some audible overtones way above 670 Hz. Ok this one is meant to be the most difficult out of the three and you have to mind that you don’t injure yourself. Apparently you can open your fingers a little for this one, whereas the Bass and Tone you should have the fingers together. The difficulty here is that I need to have contact with the drum in two places of my hand at the same. I can start by positioning my hand in exactly the same position as the ‘Tone’ with my thumbs away from the head but with my fingers slightly apart. The difference is that I need to hit the head on the edge and about 3 inches in at the same time and if I do it right it will be a much higher sound. After some practice the Toca made a fantastic high ‘Pop’ sound. Moving from Tone to Slap backwards and forwards was a good practice and I suppose I really did more Tone than Slap but it felt like a bit of an achievement every time I produced that high cutting pop. The opening of the fingers is the key here. There is no doubt that you need to practice but I was encouraged by the fact that just after half an hour, I had made some great progress on this fun instrument.


If you manage to get those down (and I did with the Toca performing admirably), I had a go at a Muted Tone which I have seen players do whereby you place one hand on the drum and play with the other. This is a bit like dampening your drum kit and provides further contrast to your sound as it is the opposite to the ‘Open’ sounds. I also tried just fingers, they all add to the different flavours of sound that you can produce.


You can also do Flams to make the sound even larger. I found the best way to do this is start with one hand slightly higher than the other and then come down on the drum so that the lower hand hits the head milliseconds earlier than the higher hand.


You can get a Freestyle Rope Tuned Djembes from Toca in four different head sizes, 7,9,10 and 12 inch. The 10 inch that I am reviewing felt a bit small for me. It wasn’t the head size that was too small but the height. I think that I would prefer to try the 12 inch which I think is 22 or 23 inches in height. This instrument is incredibly lightweight and portable as well as great fun and I am sure it would appeal to children. They may also prefer the smaller sizes. I would say before you buy a djembe, try the different sizes out to see what best suits you for comfort and height etc.


I am looking at a Toca for this review but there are many other makes. Djembes are made from different materials. The oldest types are made from wood and give you a warmer deep rich sound. Whilst they may sound better, they do require a more experienced player to get the best sounds out of them. Today, they are also made from synthetic materials. This gives you a higher pitch and bright attack and they are less expensive than the professional wood models. This is exactly how the Toca sounds but I really like that brighter cutting sound.


As an alternative way of playing, you can sit down and lay the drum across your lap with the widest part of the drum between your legs and the narrow part under one of your arms. Usually the left arm but you can decide what feels best for you. This way you are playing with the head or skin on its side. With this method you can put your hand and a part of your arm inside the drum and play the drum to produce different tones. Also, if you move your hand in and out you can get some movement and slur, in the sound. What I like about this idea is the size of the Djembe doesn’t seem to be important, because you do not need the drum to be a certain height. I also found it more comfortable to play like this and playing with my fingers only at times. I even tried wiping one hand slowly across the head whilst playing with the other. This produced a much tighter sound with less resonance.

Some professional Djembe players will have three or more drums all of different sizes. They will put one under their arm, one between their knees and the largest for deep bass sounds on a stand. This provides them with an even greater melodic range.


You can buy Stands, Padded Bags or Djembe Hats which are just covers that fit over the top half of you drum to protect them but the best accessory which is very inexpensive is something called Djembe Kessing. This is a traditional Djembe accessory. They look like aluminium lollipops that simply fit snuggly and securely between the rope webbing. They provide a dry rattling accompaniment to the drum – great fun– great idea. Don’t forget if you are new to these Drums, there are some excellent DVD’s available to get you started and take you up a level.


Well what is there not to like? From the moment you take this quality product out of the box, to the fun you have playing it. It looks great, it sounds good and it doesn’t cost much. The 7 inch drum can be bought for just over £20 (approximately $32) and this 10 inch drum only £49 (approximately $62) which is just incredible. It is lightweight and portable and when you put a microphone to it you can have some crisp percussion to cut through the mix. It could be anything from a party talking point to handy family instrument for anyone of any age. If you are serious about learning this instrument, it is a great choice because it is exceptional value for money. Go and buy one today and join a Drum Circle in your neighbourhood. If you don’t think it is for you, just think what an excellent present it would make for someone else – now there’s an idea I am glad I have thought of.

There is only one place to buy one of these great little drums and that is by clicking this Orange Banner:-

Absolute Music

One Response

  1. otsile Says:

    hello.i am shopping around looking a few of your drums.i was wondering what king of a good deal you can do us?
    the drums i am interested in are as follows below:

    Toca TFCDJ-7MS 7inch (set of 7 colours)

    Toca SFDJ-14KB 14inch (3 drums)

    TocaSFDL-9EB 9inch (3 drums)

    Toca SFDL-10RB 10inch color tone (4 drums)

    Toca TFLEX-JRK flex drum kente cloth (8 drums)

    Please let us know what kind of a deal you can do for us,and send us the final price.hope to hear from you soon.thanks

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