Photo courtesy of Latin Percussion

A little history about the Conga…

~Probably the most well known Latin percussion instrument is the conga, a deep, single-headed hand drum from Cuba. Congas can be constructed from the traditional wood or the more resilient fiberglass; heads are typically calfskin, although some drums use plastic heads.


Conga drums are essential to any Latin groove. You generate different sounds by hitting the head in different places and with different parts of your hand. Here are the most popular conga strokes and how to play them:

  • Open Tone: Creates a full resonant sound. This is the standard stroke on the congas. Strike the drum between the center of the head and the rim with the full length of your fingers, just in from your palm. Let your fingers bounce off the head immediately after striking.
  • Slap: Creates a broad ringing sound. This is used for loud accents, typically on the highest conga. A slap is played like an open tone but with your fingers slightly cupped. Use your fingertips to strike the drum with a hard flicking or whipping motion.
  • Closed Slap:Creates a less resonant accent.You produce a closed slap just like the regular (open) slap, but with your other hand pressing against the drum head to muffle it slightly.
  • Muted Tone:Creates a deep, somewhat muffled thud. Strike the drum gently with your entire hand, keeping you fingers closed. Your fingers should strike near the center of the head, the palm closer to the rim.


Origin of the Conga…

Like most Caribbean drums, congas are derived from similar African drums, in this case the Makuta drums from Central Africa, which were made from hollowed out logs. Unlike the Makuta drums, however, congas are traditionally made from staves of wood, like a barrel and , in fact, were thought to be originally made from salvaged barrels.

The conga’s head is screw-tensioned. Tuning is done while playing the open tone. When playing an open tone, the drum should ring loudly and with a clear tone. Tune the head too loose and it will sound dead and somewhat flappy. Tune the head too tight and it will sound pinched.

A conga player can play two or more congas of different sizes, either mounted on stands or positioned between the player’s legs. Traditional sizes are 10 to 11 inches for the smallest drum (called the quinto, 11 to 12 inches for the standard drum (called the conga and 12 to 13 inches for the larger drum (called the tumbadora or tumbao


Great Percussionists to Check Out

Tito Puente
Bobby Sanabria
Alex Acuña
Giovanni Hidalgo